Where am I supposed to file for a military divorce?

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Military families will often face more uncertainties in just a few years than others will in their entire lives. But no matter how prepared you may be to meet uncertainty head-on, it can be a little different when it comes to divorce. Military divorce has its own unique set of challenges that can make even the most confidence feel worried about the future.

Part of this has to do with the fact that both federal and state law applies to military divorce. This means that, for some issues — like dividing a military pension, you will have to consult federal law, while for others you will turn to state law. Since family law can vary quite a bit from state to state, you should think carefully about where you choose to file.

Do I have to file in Arizona?

Unlike civilian couples, you have more flexibility when it comes to where you file for divorce. There are three reasons why you might choose to file for divorce in Arizona. These are if you or your service member spouse:

  • Station in Arizona
  • Live here
  • Claim legal residency

Arizona state law will determine how you proceed with child custody, support, property distribution and more. However, this does not necessarily mean that service members have to immediately deal with things like custody while they are unable to be present or are even outside of the country. So, if you filed for divorce or initiated custody proceedings, your ex could apply for a stay under The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act — SCRA — which would temporarily halt the process.

Thinking about the future

Most married couples spend a large chunk of their working lives saving for retirement. Even if only one person worked, it is likely that those retirement funds were for both parties. But military retirement benefits and pensions are different than the typical retirement fund, so it might not be clear whether an ex is entitled to any of those benefits.

In most cases, someone is eligible to receive a portion of those benefits if he or she was married to a servicemember for at least 10 years, which also overlapped with at least 10 years of service. If you have ever heard of the 10/10 rule, this is what it applies to. It is also important to understand that these retirement benefits are not part of spousal support, and the servicemember does not pay them. Instead, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service — DFAS — make the payments directly to the ex-spouse.

What about other benefits?

Having spent decades married to a service member, you know just how convenient and affordable it can be to shop on base. If you were married for at least 20 years, which also overlapped with 20 years of his or her service, then you should still be able to retain privileges for the commissary, exchange, and medical facilities. With so much already changing in your life, it is nice to have a sense of consistency.

Successfully navigating a military divorce means understanding that there are many nuanced issues that people in the civilian world simply do not understand. But rather than let this thought get you down, it would be more helpful to seek out guidance. An experienced attorney who is familiar with the struggles you may face should be able to explain your options for moving forward with divorce.