Divorce Laws in the Air Force

By Jim Thomas

Air force pilot

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The divorce of a service member, whether in the Air Force or any other branch of the military, is handled in a civilian state court. A spouse filing for divorce must meet state residency requirements, and the division of assets and benefits between the couple also is handled in accordance with state law. However, there are several unique wrinkles governing the divorce of a military member, especially if he is deployed oversees.

Where to File

Residency requirements for divorce are established by each state. As divorce attorney Helene Taylor explains at the Modern Women's Divorce Guide website, a couple with a spouse in the military can file for divorce is one of three states. The military spouse can file in the state where he is stationed or in the state of his legal residence. The civilian spouse can file for divorce in the state where she resides.

Civil Relief Act

Under the 1991 Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, if you are stationed oversees, you can ask for a legal stay that prevents a divorce proceeding from going forward during your deployment plus 60 days. This gives you an opportunity to respond, after you return home, to a petition for divorce filed by your spouse.

Marital Assets

The division of assets acquired in marriage is governed by state law. If you divorce in a community property state, such as California, the court assumes that both parties contributed equally to the marriage and authorizes a 50/50 split of assets. However, most states use "equitable distribution" instead. This allows you or your spouse to request a different allocation of assets. The court considers such factors as whether one spouse has contributed significantly more than the other in accumulating marital assets and whether one spouse has a much higher earning capacity than the other, in order to determine an allocation it considers to be fair.

Retirement Benefits

Military benefits for retirement – in particular, your military pension – might be your most valuable asset after you leave the Air Force. A military pension is distributed according to state law. However, the allocation formula is quite different in different states. Some courts split the pension benefits 50/50 between you and your ex-spouse. Other courts allocate pension benefits in accordance with your length of service. For example, if you serve 20 years and are married during those years, some courts will divide pension benefits equally. If you are married 10 of those 20 years, some courts give your ex-spouse half of an equal share, or 25 percent, while you get the other 75 percent. A civilian spouse who is married for a long time to a military member may qualify for other military benefits under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, such as health insurance, medical care and Base Exchange shopping privileges at Air Force stores.

Disability Benefits

If you are disabled as a result of your military service, your disability benefits go solely to you. However, there are situations where some or all of those benefits can be withheld. If you owe alimony or child support payments, your disability benefits can be tapped to fulfill your obligations to your ex-spouse or children.