Divorces that involve at least one member on active duty in the United States military can be significantly different from a divorce in which neither spouse is one active duty. Moreover, Massachusetts laws create several special issues for couples in which one or both spouses is on active duty.
The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, 50 U.S.C. §521, is a federal statute that is intended to protect active duty military from adverse proceeding in state courts. One such proceeding is a no-fault divorce. Under the Civil Relief Act, and also under the discretion of a state court judge, a divorce proceeding may be postponed during the entire time that the military spouse is on active duty. The spouse who is in the military may wave that ban if he or she also wants the divorce.
To pursue a military divorce in Massachusetts, one or both spouses must either reside in Massachusetts or be stationed in Massachusetts. The grounds for the divorce are the same in both a military and a civilian divorce. Child support and alimony are limited to 60% of the military spouse’s pay and allowances. Property division is subject to the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA), 10 U.S.C. §1408. This statute permits state courts to distribute military retired pay to a spouse or former spouse of a member of the armed forces and provides a method of enforcing state court orders regarding alimony, child support and property division.
The underlying law regarding the granting of the divorce, property division, child support and alimony is usually the law of the state where the divorce is venued. Because members of the military and their families move frequently, choosing the proper venue for a military divorce can be a complex decision. The advice of an experienced divorce attorney can often be essential to selecting the right court and enforcing the applicable state law.