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Getting military divorce right

Military couples in Texas face the dual complexities of state and federal laws governing military divorce. A legal misstep can lead to severe consequences for a spouse on matters, such as pensions, meeting legal deadlines and gaining access to other military benefits, like health care.

First, the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows service members to seek a stay or delay of court proceedings if military duties, such as active deployment, prevent a spouse from appearing in court. However, judges do not automatically grant these continuances.

Service members have to submit a statement explaining how military duties prevent their participation in a court case and when they will be available. They must also provide a statement from their commanding officer that military duties prevent a court appearance, leave cannot be granted and when the spouse will be available. Additional continuance may be granted, if specific justification is provided that service hinders the ability to respond to the lawsuit.

Spouses are not necessarily required to provide half of their military pension to their former spouse. Pensions are distributed according to the share that is acquired during marriage in military service beginning with the wedding date or the commencement of service in the military service, whichever is later. It usually ends upon the couple's separation or divorce.

A spouse seeking fair division of pensions should usually commence their lawsuit in the state of the service member's residence. A former spouse may also be entitled to pension benefits, even in a marriage of shorter duration.

Divorce settlements should address which spouse receives the Survivor Benefit Plan. While this is normally awarded to the non-military spouse in longer marriages, the parties can use it to negotiate other matters, such as life insurance. Non-military spouses should also consider that they may be entitled to a survivor annuity from this plan when the service member dies.

A former spouse also has to meet other deadlines for seeking medical coverage. Failure to comply with these time periods can jeopardize coverage under plans, such as TRICARE.

Service members and their spouses should seek legal assistance from an experienced lawyer who can help assure that their rights are protected. Legal representation can help assure that property and benefits are distributed equitably.

Source: NCLAMP.gov, "'Fact or whacked'? Myths and mistakes in military divorces," accessed on Aug. 29, 2016

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