Divorce Law for
is home to thousands of military personnel who are frequently forced to
face the reality of divorce. The reasons for military divorce are varied,
but the special stresses of military life can often lead to marital
breakdown and dissolution. These include non-traditional work hours, long
deployments overseas (as occurred during Operation Desert Storm and now
with the building campaign against Iraq) and for younger couples, the
hardship of living far away from family and friends.
first place a soldier or spouse most often turns to for advice in a
divorce matter is the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG). The law firm of
Coates & Frey maintains close relationships with several of Hawaii’s
JAG staff attorneys – they indicate that they counsel 30 to 40 people a
week regarding divorce.
seems to be particularly divorce-prone for the military. Typically, the
JAG officers hold two on-base briefings per week – one for only
soldiers, and one for only dependents or non-military personnel. JAG will
counsel and/or represent either party, but not both. Once representation
of one begins, the other party must be referred to another military base
or private counsel for representation.
will discuss key issues such as abuse (something the military does not
tolerate); the revocation of general powers of attorney – especially if
divorce is imminent; housing; support (BAQ or dependents’ allowance will
be paid to the non-military spouse until the divorce is final by
Court-filed Decree); use of military I.D. cards; travel and relocation
is not mandatory that the military personnel or the spouse first seek
military assistance as a prerequisite to filing a divorce action. One
could simply proceed directly to a private civilian divorce attorney.
Regardless of which approach (private lawyers or JAG) the divorcing
parties select, there are some important principles which all divorcing
military members and their dependent spouses should know.
After twenty (20) years of marriage overlapping military service, the
dependent spouse should be eligible to receive service related benefits
such as health care and commissary/exchange privileges. If you are near
this milestone, you should consider delaying finalization of the divorce
to reach the required twenty (20) year point.
Military dependents, including spouses and children, may be entitled to
some military benefits after divorce, such as paid relocation to the
mainland or dependent ID cards with shopping/medical privileges.
Regarding military retirement cases, the military has particularly
stringent requirements for ex-spouses to qualify as a recipient of
military retirement benefits. You must send a copy of the divorce decree
that has been certified within the preceding ninety (90) days to DFAS. The
military may also require additional information and filings at time of
retirement, and it is your responsibility to provide such additional
information in a timely manner.
There are special requirements pertaining to the Survivor’s Benefit Plan
(SBP). If your spouse’s military retirement includes SBP and you then
get a divorce, you must have the SBP election modified by sending the
appropriate forms to DFAS within one (1) year of the divorce in order to
receive benefits as a former spouse. Failure to do so will result in your
disqualification to receive SBP benefits.
Finally, you must remember that if you waive a right to your spouse’s
retirement you are in all likelihood waiving your right to any of his/her
early retirement benefits and/or lump sum payments as well.
D. Farrell, the litigation director at Coates & Frey, also heads the
firm’s ever-growing Military Family Practice Group. Tom had a busy year
last year – he was promoted to full colonel in the Army Reserve,
received his Masters Degree from the Army War College and became the first
(and only) attorney in Hawaii to be certified by the National Board of
Trial Advocacy and recognized by the Supreme Court of Hawaii as a
Certified Family Law Specialist.#1
Nonetheless, Tom and the firm’s other nine attorneys are always
available to respond to requests for information and assistance which we
receive from our firm’s many JAG colleagues and our many service member