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Most United States citizens have a template of divorce ingrained in their minds from books, film and other media portrayals. Divorce is a growing part of the U.S. landscape. Sadly, too many children receive their understanding of the divorce process from their own divided-family experience.

Military members were once civilians. They may retain the U.S. cultural picture of how divorce works in America. After entering the military, former civilians may not have reason to learn that military divorce and civilian divorce intersect—until they wish to separate from a spouse.

Military legal assistance

Each service branch retains military attorneys on base. They are knowledgeable about divorce from a military angle and can provide options and procedural explanations. They can explain payment of spousal support and child support—and the consequences applied by the military to the service member for defaulting on payment. One of the facts imparted by military legal advisors is that service members may need representation from a civilian attorney with military divorce expertise.

Civilian legal assistance

Military personnel looking into divorce are often surprised that they may need to retain a civilian attorney. There are two places where military divorce intersects with civil divorce.

First, only civilian attorneys can represent military personnel if the divorce goes through litigation—in other words, when there are conflicts between spouses that require civilian court hearings to solve. Military legal counselors on active duty are not able to represent military families in civil court; this is the domain of civilian attorneys.

Second, the civilian attorney has the knowledge and credentials to practice law in the state responsible for the divorce. Every state in America embodies divorce laws that apply equally to military and civil divorce granted in the particular state.  

When to obtain civilian representation

Each spouse should independently locate and secure a civilian representation at the earliest opportunity. There are many issues that civilian attorneys can help a service member or spouse understand, such as how present or future deployment issues will affect plans, divorce strategy, child support and visitation, asset division, spousal support if required, health insurance retention, access to retirement funds, thrift savings plans and tax considerations.

It may be especially important for each spouse to look for a civilian attorney who practices amicable divorce; this may enable a couple to avoid court altogether. With the help of their respective civilian legal advocates, the divorcing couple can work out issues between themselves instead of going up against each other in acrimonious court actions. An amicable divorce is also easier on the entire family, especially the children, and it bodes well for positive divided-family relationships after the divorce.