February 7, 2022

The Military Divorce

Even when one spouse is a military servicemember or veteran, Connecticut law primarily governs divorce procedure and how property division, alimony and other financial issues are decided.  But federal law does come into play in several important ways.

The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act impacts starting and completing a divorce case.  It protects servicemembers so they can “devote their entire energy to the defense needs of the Nation.”  There are rules to protect a servicemember from being divorced without their knowledge.  There are other rules to protect the servicemember, for example, how the papers must be served.  The Act also directs that at the request of the servicemember, the state court must pause the divorce proceeding until up to 60 days after the end of the servicemember’s active duty. 

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (“USFSPA”) protects the civilian spouse.  Under the right circumstances, the civilian may retain access to military sponsored medical care and commissary and exchange privileges post-divorce, sometimes for as long as they remain single. The Act also enables the Connecticut family court to treat military retired pay as property that can be divided between the divorcing spouses.  This is especially valuable to the civilian in a long-term marriage who sacrificed their own career to frequently relocate with the servicemember. 

Not understanding both the state and federal laws can have serious or unintended consequences for the military family.  For example, eligibility for benefits under USFSPA often depends on whether the marriage lasted for at least 20 years and the servicemember was in the military for at least 20 years during the marriage.  If unfamiliar with USFSPA, a couple might divorce too early, say after 19 years, and forfeit valuable benefits the civilian spouse would have otherwise been entitled to receive without any cost to the servicemember.  Missing out on, say continued military health care, might seem like a loss solely to the civilian spouse.  But it could impact the servicemember even more since the Connecticut divorce court could choose to address the civilian’s uncovered health care costs with higher or longer alimony orders or even a greater share of the property.

This article was first published in the February 3, 2022 edition of The Cheshire Citizen.

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