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Special issues may affect military divorces

Any divorce in Massachusetts can raise important and complicated family law questions, even when the couple is of relatively modest means. Because they are already in a unique situation given their careers, military members and their families have some additional issues that they will want to be aware of in the event of a divorce.

On the procedural level, for instance, there may be some questions about which state’s courts can hear a divorce case involving a servicemember. Military families may have a number of options in this respect, in part because they have to crisscross state lines frequently in connection with their jobs. Aside from convenience, which state’s courts hear the divorce can affect how property, including pensions, get divided.

Also, it is important to remember that someone who is on active duty has a right under federal law to get a stay, which is like a time out in a sporting event, for at least 90 days. During these 90 days, a divorce case generally cannot go forward. The intent is to give the military member time to prepare for and participate fully in the legal proceeding.

With respect to more substantive issues, the military generally stays out of protecting a soldier’s property, including his or her pension and other cash benefits, from property division. In other words, thrift savings plans, pensions and the like could potentially be divided as marital property.

Especially with pensions, however, there are some nuances that may be best discussed with an attorney experienced with the unique aspects of military divorce. For instance, the military may only be willing to do a direct withholding from a pension in certain circumstances, so a decree may need to order a servicemember to pay part of the pension directly to his or her spouse.