Military Divorce Laws in Tennessee

Tennessee military divorce issues include Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard concerning service members stationed at the Naval Support Facility Mid-South near Millington, Tennessee, Fort Campbell, an army base that straddles the Tennessee and Kentucky border and their families living in the Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, and Bartlett areas.

Military Divorce Laws in Tennessee

Military Divorce in Tennessee

Military Divorce in Tennessee

Those who divorce a member of the military will go through the same process as two “civilians” would, based on the divorce laws in the state in which the divorce was filed, but there can be significant differences in the process as well.One of a number of potential snags that can crop up in a divorce involving members of the military is that it can be difficult to serve divorce papers on them. The different branches of the military have varying policies when it comes to serving papers on members of the military. While the branches all have a vested interest in making sure service members meet their financial and legal obligations, they also want to protect their service members’ rights. Serving papers can get complicated when members of the military are away from “home” base on temporary assignment or in a state or country that has specific laws about serving such papers that have to be respected.

Another potential twist to a “military” divorce occurs when service members are on active duty, on deployment, stationed out of the country or on a ship, or otherwise not able to show up in court due to military responsibilities. He or she can request a 90-day suspension of divorce matters based on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) if showing up to court hearings would conflict with their military duties. The SCRA, signed in 2003, strengthened the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) of 1940.

However, if a court decides that a member of the armed forces has invoked this rule but is in reality simply dodging his or her responsibilities, it can deny the request for the 90-day suspension. Establishing that can require the services of a divorce attorney well versed in military policies and procedures as well as a specific state’s laws concerning divorce.

In addition, when it comes to establishing spousal support (alimony) and child support, certain allowances a soldier, sailor, etc., receives above and beyond “base pay” might not show up in a paycheck but could be counted as income in certain states. It can take some digging to uncover all the sources of income and allowances a member of the military has to accurately determine his or her total income.

While a good number of divorces involve the laws of just one state, with military divorces, that number could easily go up. A spouse may separate from a member of the military stationed in one state but move out of state, while that member of the military could be transferred to a third state.

Someone divorcing a member of the military might find that the state from which or to which he or she moved might have divorce laws more beneficial to a specific situation, and a member of the military could find the state he or she is living in on temporary assignment has laws more-favorable laws.

The laws of the state in which the divorce is filed can be very important for these reasons. Some states allow members of the military who live in those states to claim residency after shorter times than usual. Tennessee, for instance, allows a member of the military to be considered a resident after one year of residency:

[A]ny person in the armed services of the United States, or the spouse of any such person, who has been living in [Tennessee] for a period of not less than one (1) year, shall be presumed to be a resident of [Tennessee] and the presumption of residence shall be overcome only by clear and convincing evidence of a domicile elsewhere.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 36-4-104(b).

However, another section of the code says that for the purposes of filing for divorce, six months could be a sufficient time to claim residency in Tennessee. This is a matter that requires legal advice, as the underlying point is that each case is unique, and a person’s individual circumstances and situation can have an effect on establishing the best way to proceed.

A service member’s parenting rights are the same as a civilian’s, but of course, there’s the matter of reassignment and deployment to take into consideration. The courts may rule that a military parent has the right to a certain amount of parenting time while living on a nearby base, but if he or she is reassigned or deployed, this will call for important changes in the parenting schedule, and this could happen more than once in his or her career.

In a case in which a member of the military and an ex have not agreed on spousal support and a divorce court has not issued a ruling, the military will weigh in and insist that a member of the military support his or her dependents. However, the different branches of the military have different policies and guidelines on how this should happen.

When it comes to health and dental insurance, the different branches of the military could allow exes and children coverage based on the length of service of the member of the military. At times, however, there can be clashes between what a divorce court orders and the policies of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard.

The division of military pensions is another potentially complex issue. Since the passage of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA), military pensions are now considered “property” rather than “income,” and as such, a divorce court can divide it between a member of the military and an ex. The military is willing to send such payments directly to the ex provided that the marriage lasted at least 10 years and that those 10 years “overlapped” with a minimum of 10 years’ service by the service member.

If someone was married to a member of the armed forces for 20 or more years and the service member served for those 20 years, the spouse can be eligible for permanent medical insurance, a military ID, and other important lifelong privileges.

All the forgoing is to say that divorce involving a member of the military can give rise to complexities and considerations that aren’t generally found in “civilian” divorce cases, and this will require the assistance of someone well-versed in both civil and military divorce rules and regulations.

Memphis divorce attorney Miles Mason, Sr., has served the needs of members of the armed services in Tennessee, including those based at the Naval Support Facility Mid-South near Millington, Tennessee, and Ft. Campbell. He has taken care of clients involved in military divorce cases who live in Collierville, Germantown, Bartlett, Cordova, and other places where military families reside.

His command of the issues involved in Tennessee divorce law and military policies and procedures, which vary between the different branches of the armed forces, allows him to explain the differences between “military” and “civilian” divorce rules and laws.

Divorce cases, especially such cases involving a member of the military, can be extremely fact-specific. It’s for this reason that nothing can take the place of discussing the matter with an attorney who is knowledgeable of civil and military rules and regulations involving divorce, separation, spousal support, and child support.

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Since 1995, as part of the American Bar Association Family Law Section’s Military Pro Bono Project, Miles Mason, Sr. has volunteered to serve as an attorney on the Operation Stand-By list, supporting military families by answering legal questions from members of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps from around the world on Tennessee family law and military divorce involving service members and their spouses.

Special thanks to Mark E. Sullivan, Esq., North Carolina attorney and author of the nation’s leading book on the subject, The Military Divorce Handbook: A Practical Guide to Representing Military Personnel and Their Families.  Also, thank you to Scott David Stewart, Esq., Arizona military divorce attorney, and Charles Hofheimer, Virgina divorce attorney and author of What Every Virginia Military Wife Needs to Know About Divorce.


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