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Military divorce: Overview of the SCRA and the USFSPA

On Behalf of | Jan 24, 2024 | Divorce

It probably goes without saying that people who serve in the military confront challenges. Not only do they face the risks of active deployment but also have to spend considerable time away from home even when on active duty. This absence form everyday life can, in some cases, be a factor that leads to the end of some military marriages. However, unlike a civilian divorce, a military divorce can pose unique challenges that separating spouses have to deal with.

As many people in Indianapolis and nearby areas would also agree, the predominant issue in military family law matters is the absence of one person. Often that absence is due to active deployment, where the person is serving their country. In order to ensure that such absence is not a ground for penalization in civil actions related to military family law, there are two laws that all military families should be aware of.

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, or the SCRA, is a federal law that protects military members when they are on active duty by providing them additional time for responding to court orders and preventing the passing of default judgments in various civil actions.

For example, if a military spouse files a divorce petition seeking to end their marriage to a service member, that service member will have additional time before civil or administrative proceedings. Similarly, in matters related to child custody, child support or child relocation, the SCRA prevents courts from passing default judgments if the service member is on active duty. Even though this is a federal law, it applies in state proceedings.

Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, or the USFSPA, is a federal law that can provide benefits to former spouses of military service members, if they have not remarried. The benefits include medical, commissary, exchange and other benefits. However, benefits are available only all the requirements per the 20/20/20 rule are met:

  • The service member and the former spouse were married for at least 20 years.
  • The service member served in the military for 20 years or more.
  • The former spouse was married for at least 20 years of the member’s service.

A former spouse has one year from the date of the court order to make a written request for benefits under USFSPA.

Coping with the unique challenges of military divorce

As mentioned earlier, military divorce has its own unique challenges. Sometimes, those challenges can get overwhelming, especially as one party is absent on active duty; or, when a former spouse is trying to determine if they are eligible for military benefits. Therefore, it is advisable for divorcing service members and their spouses to seek professional guidance from an experienced family law attorney.