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Differences between military and civilian divorces

On Behalf of | Jan 19, 2024 | Family Law, Military Divorce |

Military and civilian divorces share similarities, but the unique nature of military service introduces unique challenges and additional considerations that set them apart.

It is critical to understand these differences when a military service member is filing for divorce, not only for choosing an appropriate attorney but also to understand how the process differs from a typical, non-military divorce.


In a civilian divorce, jurisdiction is typically based on the couple’s place of residence. In military divorces, determining the jurisdiction for a divorce can be complex, as service members are often stationed in other states or overseas.

The individual’s duty station, home state, or where the service member claims residency influences the determination of jurisdiction for military service members. In addition, military members benefit from the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which allows them to delay legal proceedings during active duty, which can alter the timing of when the parties can file for divorce.

Military benefits

Military service members receive benefits unique to their profession, including retirement pensions. In military divorces, a specific law governs the division of military pensions between the service member and their former spouse.

For example, military spouses could claim direct payments from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) if the marriage overlaps with at least ten years of military service. This provision is called the “ten-year rule” in military divorces.

In civilian divorces, such regulations rarely exist, and the parties can either negotiate a settlement of the marital assets or, if they cannot agree, a civilian court makes that decision for them.

Other military benefits

Military members often receive disability benefits. These benefits can directly impact the financial picture in military divorces, as these benefits are not subject to division between the spouses in the event of the dissolution of the marriage.

There are other military benefits, such as the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), which provides a portion of the military member’s retirement pay to the former spouse if the service member passes. This is unique to military divorces.

Child custody matters

Military service often requires deployment, which presents unique challenges in custody arrangements, mainly when a military parent is stationed in another state or country.

In addition, military service members often move frequently between stations, which can add a layer of complexity to child custody matters.

The best interests of the child

In civilian divorces, the child’s best interests are the priority when determining child custody matters. While the same holds true in military divorces, the military parent may consider additional factors introduced by the lifestyle that comes with military service.

In summary, military divorces present unique challenges because of the nature of military service, the complexities of jurisdiction, specific regulations governing military benefits and other matters that make a military divorce different from a civilian divorce.