Issues of marriage and divorce or primarily the concern of state law. As a result, state courts have jurisdiction over divorce issues that arise within their borders. Additionally, a state court’s jurisdiction over divorce issues often depends on the physical presence of the parties within its borders. Thus, the territorial limitations of state law and jurisdiction regarding divorce matters present unique challenges to members of the armed forces.
The life of a military servicemember can be challenging as they must endure frequent relocations and temporary assignments to different domestic military bases, and overseas operations. Additionally, members of the military who are deployed to combat zones can expect to be away from their homes from anywhere between a few months to a year.
Not only does the military lifestyle put pressure on servicemembers and their families, but it can also complicate legal matters such as divorce, which are within the province of state courts. This article discusses common divorce issues that particularly affect military servicemembers.
Application of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a law that addresses the potential jurisdictional complications affecting legal disputes involving members of the U.S. military. Under 50 USC § 3901, the SCRA recognizes specific legal protections for military servicemembers when it comes to lawsuits where they are named the defendant.
Specifically, the SCRA grants military servicemembers procedural protections when it comes to default judgments—court rulings that are adverse to parties who fail to appear in court. Typically, the plaintiff who obtains a default judgment against an absentee defendant automatically wins their case.
However, because military life often sends servicemembers around the world, it can be difficult for them to appear in court within the ordinary time frame required by state law. The SCRA prevents default judgments against military servicemembers who are unable to appear in court due to their military duties.
These protections can be particularly helpful in divorce matters, including initial divorce filings and post-divorce modification or enforcement matters.
Jurisdictional Issues for Child Custody
The SCRA also applies to state court proceedings concerning the custody of minor children, providing that “no court may consider the absence of the servicemember because of deployment, or the possibility of deployment, as the sole factor in determining the best interest of the child.” However, the SCRA does not entirely prevent a court from considering the deployment or military duties of a servicemember in child custody cases when weighed along with other factors.
The Federal Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act
Financial issues in divorce cases—particularly property division and family support matters—provide members of the military with another unique challenge when it comes to military benefits. For example, active-duty military servicemembers receive various benefits including medical benefits, military housing, and subsistence benefits.
The division of certain military benefits may depend on the application of the Federal Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (FUSPSA). Former spouses of military servicemembers may be eligible to continue receiving medical benefits after getting a divorce from their spouses.
Under the FUSPSA, eligibility for medical benefits is available under the following circumstances:
- The military spouse has a minimum of 20 years of military services
- The spouses have a minimum of 20 years of marriage
- At least 20 years of marriage overlaps with the servicemembers years of service
Contact Family Law San Diego for Representation
As you can see, military families potentially face difficult legal issues when it comes to divorce. If you are in a military family facing divorce in California, you should reach out to Family Law San Diego. We are dedicated to providing quality legal representation to military families in California so they can reach a fair resolution to their divorce issues.
Call our firm at (619) 577-4900 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation about your case today.