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Understanding the Military Divorce Process

Military divorce proceedings share the same similarities with civilian divorce proceedings. However, there are significant differences when one party is a service member as opposed to when both spouses are civilians. Understanding the complex issues relating to military divorces can help you make better decisions and offer favorable outcomes.

However, if you’re contemplating a divorce and you or your spouse is in the military, consider hiring a Chester County divorce lawyer.

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The Federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act of 2003 (SCRA) protects military members’ legal rights when serving on active duty. Generally, when one party serves divorce papers, the other has to respond within a certain period. However, with the SCRA, servicemembers can apply for a temporary halt or stay of any civil action against them.

This stay allows service members to focus on their duty and protects them when they cannot attend divorce proceedings. Typically, the temporary halt usually lasts 90 days from their release from active duty.

Deciding Where to File

In a civilian divorce, it’s easy to know where to file. However, in the military community, it’s not very straightforward. A couple may be from one state, get married in a second state, live in another, and be stationed in a fourth state.

Therefore, many states are beginning to reduce or eliminate the residency requirement for service members. If you’re a military member, you have specific options when it comes to jurisdiction, and they include:

  • The state where you pay taxes or claim legal residency
  • The state where you’re stationed even if you’re a nonresident
  • The state where you last resided for six months or more
  • Your spouse can also file in the state where he or she resides

Whichever state you or your spouse choose to file for divorce might impact the outcome of your divorce. The reason is that family law varies from state to state. However, a Chester County divorce lawyer can explain how Pennsylvania divorce laws will interpret your case.

Military Pensions and Benefits

During divorces, military pensions, just like civilian pensions, are subject to division between spouses. There is a federal law governing the division of military pensions, called the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA).

Under this act, state courts have permission to treat pension as sole or community property, depending on their divorce laws. However, a state only has the right to divide military pension under one of the following conditions:

  • The service member is a legal resident of the state
  • The service member resides in the state for reasons other than military assignment
  • The service member consents to the division of the pension

Therefore, before choosing where to file for divorce, it’s vital to know if the state has the power to divide the military pension. Additionally, you should also know how the state handles the division of property.

Besides pension, former spouses are also eligible for military benefits such as medical coverage, commissary, and exchange privileges. However, ex-spouses may qualify when:

  • The marriage lasted for 20 years or more
  • The service member performed at least 20 years of creditable service toward retirement pay
  • There was at least a 20-year overlap of marriage and military service.


Military divorces have different rules affecting how a couple can file, the timeline, and the divorce’s outcome. If you or your spouse is in the military, schedule a consultation with a Chester County divorce lawyer before filing divorce papers.