The Challenges of Divorcing in the Military
If you are among the brave men and women dedicating their lives to protecting our country and defending our freedoms (or if you are a military spouse), you know that serving carries a strong sense of pride, honor and patriotism.
You also know it comes with its share of sacrifices.
Frequent relocation whether domestic or international, coupled with long deployments and time apart from your husband or wife can really put a marriage to the test. And sometimes, that strain can take a huge toll and lead to a military divorce.
Ending a marriage is never easy.
But it can be far more difficult when one or both parties serve in the military.
- Perhaps you and your spouse are living in different places.
- Or you've recently relocated and aren't sure if you qualify to get a divorce in the state you’re currently residing in.
- Maybe you’re wondering how to develop a parenting time schedule when one of you is away for long stretches of time?
- Or how to agree on a child support or alimony amount when your incomes can be quite variable.
- You might be questioning how to resolve the issue of military retirement and divorce - because you know dividing military pensions are handled much differently than civilian pensions.
- And on top of all that, you might want to know just how you can get through your military divorce or dual military divorce in a way that is peaceful, fair, cost-effective and child-focused.
In this post, we'll focus on frequently asked questions about military divorces.
And if you’re divorcing in the military, we'll shed some light on why divorce mediation can help you keep things peaceful, productive, and reach an agreement you and your spouse both find fair.
Frequently Asked Questions about Military Divorces and The Divorce Mediation Process:
- What is a Military Divorce?
- How is a military divorce different than a civilian divorce?
- What issues can divorce mediation resolve in a military divorce?
- What are the benefits of mediating our military or dual military divorce?
- How does the military divorce process using divorce mediation work? And what role does the mediator play?
- How do mediation sessions take place in a military divorce? And when divorcing in the military, how long does mediation take?
- How do I know if divorce mediation is right for my uncontested military divorce?
- What should I know about getting a divorce in the military with children?
- When it comes to a military divorce and alimony, as a service member do I really have to pay money to my soon-to-be-ex-spouse?
- Can mediation help resolve issues surrounding property division especially military retirement and divorce?
- I or my spouse is stationed in a different state or overseas. Can we still mediate with you?
- How do we get started mediating our military divorce with Equitable Mediation?
What is a Military Divorce?
A military divorce is simply a divorce in which one spouse serves in any branch of the military (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, etc.). This includes active duty military or retired military personnel.
If both spouses are in the military and seeking a divorce, it’s referred to as a dual military divorce.Back to top of FAQs list
How is a military divorce different than a civilian divorce?
There is a common misconception that military divorces are handled differently than civilian divorces. And while yes, some of the issues in military divorces are different than in civilian ones, the military divorce process is the same as a civilian divorce process.
Sometimes people starting military divorces think they need to hire a military divorce lawyer. Or work with a JAG officer in order to get a military divorce.
But that's not the case.
If you want to know how to get a divorce in the military, you and your spouse would simply use one of the same divorce methods (like divorce mediation) civilians use to resolve the necessary issues for divorce.Back to top of FAQs list
What issues can divorce mediation resolve in a military divorce?
Divorce mediation can resolve all of the issues required for your military divorce including, but not limited to:
- A parenting plan to outline time sharing and parental responsibilities for co-parenting your children post-divorce;
- The financial support each of you will provide your children (child support);
- The division of your marital property and debts - which may be referred to as equitable distribution or community property, depending on the state you live in;
- And how much, and for how long you will pay or receive alimony - which may also be known as spousal support, maintenance, or spousal maintenance, depending on the state you live in.
What are the benefits of mediating our military or dual military divorce?
Divorce mediators keep the parties (you and your spouse) focused on respectful discussion in order to reach agreement and solutions that benefit both of you and your children.
You and your spouse will have full control over the terms of your divorce settlement and those terms must be acceptable to both of you.
Children aren’t caught in the cross hairs of an adversarial litigated divorce. Instead, you and your spouse will work together as parents to resolve the issues with your children’s best interests in mind. This sets a better foundation for your post-divorce co-parenting relationship.
You can end your marriage while maintaining your dignity and self-respect.
- Confidential and Private:
Mediation is a confidential process, unlike divorce litigation which is public.
You and your husband or wife will control the pace of the divorce mediation process, instead of being at the mercy of lawyers' or a judge's timetable.
- Less Costly:
Divorce mediation costs thousands less than a lawyer-driven divorce process.
How does the military divorce process using divorce mediation work? And what role does the mediator play?
The military divorce process is the same as the divorce process for non-military couples.
So if you and your spouse have both agreed to divorce in an amicable or respectful manner, a good option would be to use divorce mediation - working with a professional divorce mediator. The divorce mediator’s goal is to aid you and your spouse in peacefully reaching mutually acceptable agreements on all of the issues required for your divorce.
It's important to note that if your husband or wife refuses to cooperate, you will be unable to use mediation. Instead, you’d need to pursue an alternative divorce method.
Steps to divorce using mediation at a high level:
Step 1: Hire a Qualified Mediator.
The first step in the military divorce process is to hire a divorce mediator. And choosing a competent mediator who has experience with the unique issues surrounding a military divorce is vital.
Step 2: Negotiate the Terms of Your Settlement.
At a very high level, the mediator will identify the issues that need to be resolved in your military divorce, as well as pinpointing your specific situational complexities.
These issues may include, but are not limited to: the parenting time each of you will have with the children (parenting plans), the financial support each of you will provide to them (child support), the financial support one of you may provide to the other (referred to as alimony, spousal support, maintenance or spousal maintenance, depending on the state you live in), and the division of your marital assets and liabilities (referred to as equitable distribution or community property division depending on the state you live in.)
Once the issues are identified along with pinpointing your specific situational complexities, the mediator will then guide you and your spouse through a series of discussions pertaining to those essential issues - with the goal of reaching fair and equitable solutions.
When areas of disagreement arise, the mediator will utilize his skills and expertise to create options, and assist you and your spouse in negotiating the terms of your settlement agreement.
Step 3: Drafting of Your Agreement.
The third step in the military divorce process is the drafting of your agreement.
Once all of the issues required to end your marriage have been resolved, your divorce mediator will draft a comprehensive document known as a Memorandum of Understanding (or MOU for short). The MOU outlines in detail all agreements you and your spouse reached during your negotiations.
Step 4: Filing & Finalization of Your Divorce.
After you and your spouse have received your MOU, the divorce mediation process will come to an end and the final step will then be for you to go through the filing phase with the courts.
And it is during the court process that your divorce will become legally binding.
There are a few different available options/professionals to help with the court filing process – some involve attorneys and some don't.Back to top of FAQs list
How do mediation sessions take place in a military divorce? And when divorcing in the military, how long does mediation take?
Because the military divorce process is the same as a civilian divorce process, the answer to the question, “How long does a military divorce take?” is the same as it is in a civilian divorce.
How long a military divorce takes will vary and depends on a number of factors including, but not limited to: case complexity, the divorce method you use (divorce mediation vs. lawyers), the state and county you live in, and the length of time it takes to go through the court process.
Generally, a military divorce can take a few months (if using divorce mediation) or much longer (if using collaborative law process or traditional lawyer-driven litigation).Back to top of FAQs list
How do I know if divorce mediation is right for my uncontested military divorce?
Divorce mediation is a good option for your military divorce if:
- You and your husband or wife are both willing to be active participants in the mediation process;
- You are both willing to be fully transparent and engage in what we call a “good faith negotiation;”
- You are both mentally capable of making your own informed decisions.
What should I know about getting a divorce in the military with children?
For couples divorcing with minor children, there are two issues that come into play: parental responsibilities / parenting time (child custody) and child support. And if you’re facing a military or dual military divorce with children, those issues can be more difficult to resolve if there is frequent relocation or overseas deployments.
Most of the couples we work with agree it’s in their children’s best interest to spend time with both parents.
But in the case of military divorce and child custody, what if you and your spouse are not living together at the time you decide to get a divorce? This can have far reaching consequences when it comes to determining where the will children live, spend holidays, and summer vacations.
For civilian couples that live within a few miles of each other, when it’s the other party’s parenting time, it’s common for one parent to simply call the other parent and say, “Hey, I'm going to drive the kids over to your house and drop them off.” But in a military divorce, child custody issues can be more complicated because if you're living very far away from each other, you and your spouse won’t be able to do that.
Instead, you’ll need a plan that’s customized to your situation that takes logistical and geographical factors into consideration.
You may need to put children on a plane to see the other parent. Or they may even need to travel overseas. Especially with young children, this can prove quite difficult. And expensive!
So working with a mediator who has extensive experience in long-distance parenting plan arrangements will be crucial!
Also, in a military divorce, child custody issues surrounding decision making can prove challenging.
If one spouse is on active military duty, in another time zone, and / or stationed overseas, chances are they won't be readily available to have the necessary conversations regarding child custody and decision making.
These kinds of decisions may include, but are not limited to, where the children will go to school, what religion they will be raised in, and if they need any elective medical procedures. Since one parent may be making significant decisions for the children on behalf of both parties, this requires a high level of trust between the parties.
And as you can see by just these few examples, in a military divorce, child custody issues can be challenging to resolve.
Then there’s the issue of military divorce and child support.
In many of the states we practice in, child support is determined using something called the income shares model. In an income shares model, the two main factors are: the number of overnights the children spend with each parent as well as the incomes of both parties.
In a military divorce, child custody may be quite one sided with the children spending most (or all) of their time with one parent. If that's the case, chances are one parent is going to wind up paying 100% of the child support, which may or may not be what both parties want.
The next factor in an income shares model is income.
Unlike a civilian with an office job receiving a steady salary paid out at regular intervals, active duty military personnel may not enjoy the same luxury. You may have basic pay, reserve and guard pay, special pay, overseas extension pay, hardship duty pay, military retirement pay, military veteran pay, etc.
So how do you determine what your income is, if your pay can be highly variable?
And in turn, what income should you use to calculate child support?
And ones that an experienced professional mediator familiar with the different types of military pay will be able to help you and your spouse answer.
Finally, when it comes to military divorce and child support, there are additional expenses that parents may incur, that are not included in a basic child support amount.
For example, parenting time expenses. Parenting time expenses are the expenses one or both of you will incur having the children travel to see the other parent, or for you to travel to them, for parenting time. This is an expense that most civilians don't have as they typically live close to each other and can simply spend time with the children in their own home during their parenting time schedule.
How, if at all, do you share these expenses?
Hopefully you’re starting to understand how divorce in the military with children presents a number of unique challenges.
And how in order to come into an agreement that's fair to both of you and your children, working with a competent and experienced professional familiar with the issues surrounding divorce in the military with children is so important.Back to top of FAQs list
When it comes to a military divorce and alimony, as a service member, do I really have to pay money to my soon-to-be-ex-spouse?
Throughout this post, I've shared several examples how a military divorce can be quite different from a civilian divorce. Especially when it comes to issues of divorce in the military with children.
But if there is one issue that both a military divorce and a civilian divorce have in common it's this: reluctance by one spouse to pay to their soon-to-be-ex spouse, alimony.
In a military divorce spousal support (aka alimony or maintenance) is treated just as it is in a civilian divorce: it is based on need and is gender neutral.
So, when it comes to a military divorce and alimony, if one party qualifies to receive it, then the other party will most likely be required to pay it. Unless the qualifying party waives their right to spousal support.
And while some states we practice in have guidelines for calculating military divorce spousal support figures, ultimately the amount paid and / or received will be up to the parties to agree on.
Given the intense emotions typically surrounding a military divorce and alimony, coming to agreement can prove quite difficult.
Once again, that's why it's extremely important you work with a highly-skilled professional who can help you resolve the complex issues surrounding your military divorce and alimony.Back to top of FAQs list
Can mediation help us resolve issues surrounding property division especially military retirement and divorce?
You've learned that in order to get a military divorce, you must negotiate and come to agreement on a parenting plan and time sharing arrangement for your children, an amount of child support each of you will provide for their financial well-being, and, if applicable, an alimony amount that one ex-spouse will provide to the other.
But before you can move forward with your military divorce, there's one more topic that you’ll need to discuss and come to agreement on - the division of your marital assets and liabilities (known as community property in some states and equitable distribution in others).
In this part of the military divorce process, you and your spouse will discuss, and come to agreement on what to do with items such as houses, bank accounts, pensions or other retirement accounts, automobiles, mortgages, credit card debt, and any other marital assets and liabilities you own and/or owe.
With significant time spent on the issues surrounding military retirement and divorce.
In our experience, military pensions typically represent the single biggest asset in a military divorce. And requires a unique skill set to help parties come to agreement that most mediators don’t possess.
This is where having a divorce mediator with a financial background can really benefit!Back to top of FAQs list
I or my spouse is stationed in a different state or overseas. Can we still mediate with you?
As a member of a military family, you probably know that moving frequently, or being apart for long periods of time, is a common part of military life. And may be one of the reasons why you wish to pursue a military divorce.
So, if you and your spouse are no longer living together, you may be wondering if you can still mediate your uncontested military divorce with us.
We practice divorce mediation in California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington State. So if at least one of you meets the residency requirements in one of the states in which we practice, then yes - you can mediate your divorce with us.
As pioneers in the field of “virtual divorce mediation,” we’ve helped hundreds of couples, both military and civilian, divorce peacefully and cost-effectively - even when they weren’t both living in the same location.
In fact, our virtual divorce mediation services have become so popular that 90% of our clients choose to mediate with us virtually, even when we have an office located near where they live!
So we know it works!Back to top of FAQs list
Mediation sounds like the way to go for us so how do we get started mediating our military divorce with Equitable Mediation?
If you and your spouse have both agreed to divorce, want to mediate and are ready to start a military divorce in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York or Washington State, the next step is to book an initial mediation meeting for the two of you.