It’s no secret that going through a divorce is challenging for everyone involved, but getting a divorce while deployed compounds those challenges. Some couples part ways amicably and find common ground as co-parents, so divorce proceedings are clean and as friendly as possible given the situation. This, however, is not the norm.
Divorce requires dividing assets, debt, and working out custody and visitation arrangements. Making matters worse, emotions are at the forefront of every decision.
If your spouse is a United States service member who is deployed overseas, the emotions, difficulty, and frustration drastically increase during the divorce process. We offer this guide to provide a broad overview of how the divorce process changes when your spouse is deployed overseas.
You Want a Divorce, Now What?
Before you actually file for divorce, you need to do some prep work.
- First, consult with an attorney who can guide you through the process and explain how divorce works in Virginia.
- You need to gather relevant documents and pay close attention to your budget.
- Your deployed spouse likely doesn’t have any information related to your assets, debts, or property with him or her while deployed, so it’s up to you to provide all the information for your divorce.
- Similarly, as you are stateside, paying the bills and maintaining your household, you need to have documented proof of how much it costs for utilities, groceries, daycare, and other things that keep a household running.
- You must also have grounds to file for divorce. Under Virginia law, your spouse must have been convicted of a felony within the last year, which is highly unlikely if he or she is an active-duty member of the military.
- Other grounds that can apply include cruelty and desertion in the previous year and proof of adultery within the previous five years.
It’s also good to know that couples who choose to divorce must separate for a minimum of one year if they have minor children or a minimum of six months if they have no children or adult children.
Divorce vs. Divorce When Deployed
When you file for divorce and your spouse is nearby, you simply visit a family law attorney to draw up divorce papers and serve those papers to your spouse. He or she must respond within a particular timeframe. The process for divorce when your spouse is deployed is basically the same, but several obstacles complicate and delay the steps because your spouse simply isn’t available in the same way:
- Getting a divorce while deployed still means serving papers and dividing assets.
- The largest difference between a military divorce and regular divorce is the allocation of military benefits, including pensions and survivor benefits.
- You, your spouse, and the court, also need to make decisions about child custody, spousal support, and child support.
Keep reading to learn about key things you must know about divorcing a military spouse who is deployed overseas.
Facts About Divorce While Deployed
If you are planning to file for divorce while your spouse is deployed, you need to be aware of the specific challenges and potential legal issues that come with this choice.
1. Serving Papers
Locating your spouse and serving papers can be difficult after filing for divorce. The military might help you, but your spouse’s commanding officer does not have to serve papers. This is easier if your spouse agrees to a divorce and will accept the service.
If your spouse plans to contest the divorce, you will need an attorney to help serve the papers. Typically, if you serve papers and your spouse does not respond, you can pursue a divorce by default. This is not the case with active-duty military, as they have protections in place under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Your spouse can put divorce proceedings on hold during deployment, plus an additional 60 days.
2. Child Custody
You might assume that because of your spouse’s deployment you will automatically get full physical and legal custody of any children. This is not always the case. The court will review your case and determine custody based on fitness.
If your spouse wants equal custody, he or she can assign family members to step in on their behalf when deployed in the future. Typically, family members include your mother- and/or father-in-law or a sibling over age 18. Like traditional divorce, you can also expect the court to create a temporary child support order until the divorce is finalized.
3. Court Proceedings
In a traditional divorce, couples need to attend a mandatory hearing to finalize their divorce. Most states require a six-month waiting period prior to that hearing. Depending on your spouse’s orders, attending court after their return may not be an issue.
In other cases, a long deployment or back-to-back deployments might force you to wait for months or years. One way around this is for your spouse to file a divorce by deposition while he or she is overseas. The deployed spouse will then not need to appear in court, but both of you must be in agreement on all terms of the divorce.
How to Start the Divorce Process When Your Spouse Is Deployed
Divorces are typically messy situations, and deployment magnifies the complexity. A trusted divorce attorney can provide you with legal advice to help you overcome some challenges and uncertainties of going through a military divorce while your spouse is deployed.
In addition to helping you serve papers, a divorce lawyer can help you put together the necessary paperwork and information for the court so you can proceed with a divorce while your spouse is deployed overseas, ultimately saving you time and money.
If your spouse is a deployed member of the military and you are headed for divorce, you want the process to go smoothly so you can both move on with your lives. Dealing with paperwork, custody issues, property division, and financial support during a divorce is difficult enough, let alone having to sort things out when your spouse is overseas.
Seeking a Military Divorce in Virginia?
Contact the Law Office of Michael Ephraim today to discuss your divorce case while deployed questions, or to speak with an expert about other divorce-related questions you might have.