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What Is The Difference Between Military Divorce & Civilian Divorce?

It is important for members of the military, and their spouses, to understand the difference between a military divorce and a civilian divorce. In California, there are a completely different set of local and federal laws that apply to a military divorce as compared to those which apply to a civilian divorce.
Herrig & Vogt, LLP is a Roseville-based legal firm that has been in practice for 20 years. We handle a wide variety of divorce and family law issues, and have years of experience representing clients in both civilian and military divorce cases. We take pride in our commitment to always represent our clients in a manner that is in direct alignment with what is in their best interests. Before you take action to file for a military divorce, contact our firm so that we can review your situation, advise you of your legal rights and help you protect your interests throughout the divorce proceedings.


Military Divorce vs. Civilian Divorce: What’s the Difference?

One of the primary differences between a military divorce and a civilian divorce is that a military divorce is governed by both state and federal law. To file for a military divorce in our state, either you or your spouse must either reside here or be stationed here. The courts often give an active duty service member a certain level of protection and relief from the stress of dealing with a long-distance divorce, by allowing the divorce proceedings to be put on hold until 60 days after the service member has completed his or her service. If the service member so wishes, he or she can waive those rights and allow the divorce to proceed. There is no such option in a civilian divorce.

The division of property in a military divorce is done in the same fashion as a civilian divorce. Property is separated into community or marital property and separate property. Community property is divided up as equally as possible between the two spouses and separate property is retained by the spouse who owns it. In a military divorce, a service member’s military pay, health benefits, pension, retirement plan and other benefits will not extend to his or her ex-spouse unless certain requirements have been met. Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA), and providing that the couple been married for at least 10 years during a period of time when the service member engaged in creditable service, the military retired pay that service member receives can be divided between the two parties as marital property.

There are also certain instances wherein we may be able to secure a court order on behalf of the spouse of a service member to allow that spouse to receive payments on his or her portion of the service member’s pay, even while the member is active duty military. For an ex-spouse to receive continued medical benefits, health care, commissary and exchange benefits, the couple must have been married at least 20 years, the service member must have at least 20 years of creditable service and there must have been at least a 20-year overlap between the two. In cases where there was only a 15-year overlap, the ex-spouse will still be able to receive benefits, but only for a 1-year period of time