Having a military spouse can be tough on a marriage. The spouse is doing an invaluable service to the country, but the long stretches of loneliness have a toll. Also, the loved one may not always be a stable partner if they’ve seen significant combat.

That said, there are many reasons why people get divorced from a service member. It is often because of the reasons why civilians get divorced – a conflict of personality, falling out of love, or simply growing in different directions.

Service members who are divorcing have additional protections under the law. Generally, the law protects a respondent spouse in any civil case or will soon be on active military duty. This includes reservists and National Guard members on active duty. The court can postpone or suspend hearings until the service member can take part.

The law aims to help service members give full attention to their duties. It may limit the court’s ability to make orders permanently, adversely affecting the service member’s rights.

If the service member’s military service “materially affects” their ability to participate in a court case, the court must wait until the service member is available. If a spouse cannot get to a hearing due to military service, and the outcome depends on their participation, the court can postpone the hearing. Usually, the court will still make temporary decisions about parental rights and responsibilities, and child support, without the service member, to protect the children’s best interest.

When Your Spouse is in the Military

You must try to determine if your spouse is on active duty before filling out a divorce form, even if you separated a long time ago and fell out of touch. There are a couple of ways to accomplish this:

  1. Check https://scra.dmdc.osd.mil/
  2. Or, Contact the Defense Manpower Data Center, 1600 Wilson Blvd., Suite 400, Attn: Military Verification, Arlington, VA 22209-2593
    Phone (703) 696-6762 or 5790, fax (703) 696-4156. (include a stamped, self-addressed return envelope) If you tried but cannot find out if your spouse is on active duty, you must file an affidavit with the court explaining this.

When Your Spouse Is Currently on Duty Overseas and Is Not Responding to the Divorce Case

Normally if Respondent has not filed anything by the deadline to respond, you can seek a “default judgment.” You ask for final orders giving you everything your original court papers asked for. A judge will usually grant a default judgment if the Respondent has not responded by the deadline.

However, before a judge can enter a default judgment against a Respondent on active duty, the judge must appoint a lawyer to represent the Respondent’s interests. The judge will often delay granting final divorce orders until the service member can get leave and come to court.

If the other party is, or may soon be, on active military duty, when you serve them with your divorce papers, ask them to sign a special waiver form. If your spouse is willing to give up their special legal protections, your spouse must sign the form and return it to you or file it with the court. If your spouse will not do this, see a lawyer.

If You Agree with Everything Your Spouse Is Asking for in the Divorce, You Don’t Have to Go to Court

If you agree on all the issues, you can waive your rights to delays in the case by signing a written waiver in front of a notary public. You must have the waiver form filed with the court. If you think you want this, see a lawyer specializing in military law or a JAG attorney for more info. This locator can help you find the nearest local military legal assistance office: http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php. If you sign the waiver form, you are giving up protections under this law.

Your Spouse, on Active Military Duty, Must Still Pay Child Support

All military personnel has a responsibility to support their children. You can contact your military spouse’s commanding officer to help arrange payments even without a court order. Use this military online locator service to find your spouse: https://scra.dmdc.osd.mil/. The more info you enter, the better your chances of finding your spouse.

Divorces have many difficult aspects, which is why you need an experienced attorney on your side. Chad Foster is a trusted Washington lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.

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