There continues to be significant confusion about legal residency and other requirements and regulations governing military divorce.
Troops continue to divorce at higher rates than the civilian population. Without proper legal help, military divorces, as well as, custody and support issues, can become incredibly complex and contentious. New Jersey will typically waive the residency requirement for divorcing military members stationed in New Jersey. And the vast majority of military divorces occur in the county where a military member’s base is located (though filing in your legal state of residency is also possible).
The transient nature of military service makes seeking qualified civilian legal help critical, particularly in cases involving child custody, child support or spousal support benefits. While there may be military regulations of which you should be aware, it is ultimately the civil court decisions that will govern your separation.
Military.com reported earlier this year that about 21,000 married military members divorce each year. However, some women in the military and service members in certain positions continue to see divorce rates far higher than the average. MarketWatch reported earlier this year that enlisted military supervisors had the highest divorce rate in the nation, at almost 30 percent.
Military Requirements for Civilian Divorce
New Jersey has a long history of proud military service and is home to many military bases, including McGuire Air Force Base in New Hanover, Fort Dix Army Base in Burlington, Fort Monmouth Army Base in Monmouth, Picatinny Arsenal Army Base in Morris County, NWS Earle Navy Base in Colts Neck, NAES Lakehurst Navy Base in Lakehurst, Loran Support Unity Coast Guard Base in Wildwood and the Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May.
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) provides federal statute governing military divorce, and generally requires military members to accept state law regarding most divorce issues. Federal statute also classifies military pensions as property, instead of recognizing it as income, making such benefits distributable as part of a property settlement.
Additionally, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows active-duty service members to request a stay of divorce proceedings in cases where they can’t respond appropriately, or timely, because of deployment or other military obligations.
Military Benefits for Divorcing Spouses
Military retirement benefits and pension pay are administered by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), and permits former spouses to get direct military pension pay in cases where a couple was married for at least 10 years, overlapping with at least 10 years of military service.
Yet, there are still many misconceptions about military requirements regarding support, as well as distribution of pension benefits, as discussed recently by a legal assistance officer in the Ft. Leavenworth Lamp. Specifically, there is no mandate that long-term military marriages will result in significant pension benefits to a former spouse. (Conversely, there is also nothing under either New Jersey state law or military law or regulations that prevent a spouse of less than 10 years from obtaining pension benefits, or a correspondingly bigger share of the division of marital property).
Military branches do have regulations regarding family care, child support and custody. For example, AR 608-99 is an Army regulation that addresses those issues. However, the regulations act as a guide for base commanders and do not replace state-issued court orders.
The regulation pertains strictly to family members who live off-post in non-government housing and does not provide authority to collect arrearages (past due support). Such back pay can only be requested in court. So, your commander may use military regulations to order temporary support or other benefits, but will not use them to modify a civilian court order.
In other words, New Jersey court decisions will ultimately determine your divorce arrangement. Not the military. Consulting a Middlesex County divorce lawyer can best prevent unintended legal consequences, which in turn will likely keep you out of trouble with the military.
Your New Jersey military divorce lawyer must also be aware of other benefits impacted by divorce, including Thrift Savings Plan benefits, Survivor Benefits, Base Privileges and Tricare.
Early consultation with a New Jersey divorce lawyer experienced in handling military divorces will help protect your rights while keeping you from running afoul of either the law… or the military.
Call Rozin|Golinder Law, LLC today for a free and confidential consultation.