Military Divorces in Tennessee: Answers to FAQs

Military divorce in Tennessee 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.

Answering Questions Service Members and Spouses Need to Know

Military Divorce in Tennessee

Military Divorce in Tennessee

What can I do if my military ex refuses to pay child support?

You do have recourse. A letter of complaint to the member of the military’s commanding officer can greatly help in such a situation. The commanding officer will frequently discuss the matter with a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, a military lawyer. The military can demand that the servicemember comply with military regulations, which require members of the military to obey the law, in this case, to live up to an agreement the exes made about child support or to obey a court-ordered child support ruling. Failure to do so could result in an official reprimand, the loss of pay, or even criminal charges for not obeying military regulations.

What about my ex’s military retirement pay?

This can be subject to differing state laws, but in general, Congress passed a law in 1982 (the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act) that allows state divorce courts to treat military retirement plans as they would nonmilitary retirement plans, that is, as property subject to division rather than the income of just the member of the military.

A divorce court can consider military retirement pay to be the sole property of whomever earned it, or it can take the length of the marriage (and the number of years it “overlapped” with the military service) into account when it comes to splitting it.

What if my military spouse committed adultery?

Members of the military are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which, as a law passed by Congress, is a federal law. It prohibits adultery, but adultery can be hard to prove. In adultery cases, the military has to prove that 1) a married servicemember had sexual intercourse with someone other than his or her spouse, 2) and this brought discredit on the armed forces.

Barring confessions or photos, 1 is hard to prove, and 2 allows for all kinds of interpretation. Was the adultery with someone of higher or lower rank? Was the adultery “notorious,” that is, well known around the base? Did the adultery occur when the married couple were legally separated?

Just as in civil law, the military generally looks upon adultery not as a criminal matter but a civil matter that could result in disciplinary action, reduction in rank, losing out on a promotion, and so on.

What happens if I’m a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a member of the military?

If the abuser is a civilian, the military can turn the matter over to the local police department and perhaps boot the abusing civilian off base, if that’s where he or she lives, in order to protect the abused member of the military.

If the abuser is a member of the military, the military might weigh in with counseling, more of an “administrative” approach, by getting the member of the military involved in the military’s Family Advocacy System. It could also punish the member of the military under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which could result in disciplinary procedures, including a court-martial or a discharge.

My spouse is on active duty halfway around the world. Can I file for divorce?

Yes, you can. There can be difficulties in finding out exactly where he or she is, and it might be difficult to serve “papers” in this situation. As well, there could be some particular laws pertaining to serving papers to someone in a different state or a foreign country that you will have to take into account. This is where you’ll need an attorney well-versed in military divorce who knows how the different branches of the military handle such matters as serving papers.  In addition, Tennessee has laws that protect service members from certain aspects of the divorce procedure in terms of forcing a stationed spouse to appear in court.  But, if the spouses can reach a settlement, that may not be needed.

I want to file for divorce from someone in the military who’s based in San Diego, where we lived. He’s on temporary assignment in Washington now, and I’ve recently moved to Tennessee, so where should I file for divorce?

Three states means you have three possibilities, and it may be that one of the three might be a better legal “venue” for divorce than the other two.

On the other hand, it could be that you have not lived in your current state long enough to be considered a resident and therefore not able to institute a divorce proceeding there. Tennessee, for instance, allows members of the military who are based say, at the Naval Support Facility Mid-South near Millington, Tennessee, or Ft. Campbell to be considered residents after a year, but the law is unclear on this matter in that other sections of Tennessee divorce law put the time at six months for either the member of the military or his or her spouse. In some cases it’s enough that the “misbehavior” that led someone to file for divorce occurred in Tennessee regardless of where the couple live. As you can see, this is an area of the law that is not entirely clear and may depend on your particular circumstances, so it is best to seek legal advice before deciding in which state to initiate divorce proceedings.

It might turn out that it’s advantageous for you to file for divorce in Tennessee rather than California or Washington, but can you get to Tennessee easily for divorce proceedings? This again is an area in which an attorney well versed in military divorce can help you decide the best venue for you to file.

What about custody and visitation rights?

Courts will take into consideration a servicemember’s long overseas deployment when it comes to establishing custody and visitation rights. The courts’ overriding concern, as always, will be what’s best for the children.

In Tennessee, if a member of the military who is the residential parent of children is deployed, the courts will change the custody order so that the nonresidential parent, or in some cases another relative, will have custody during the deployment. When the deployment ends, the original child custody order will go back into effect. The difficulty here is that at times the nonresidential parent who had temporary custody could start a custody battle based on the deployment.

While the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which strengthened the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA) of 1940, allows members of the military to get a 90-day suspension of divorce proceedings, rulings, and such if they are deployed or stationed out of the country, it’s not clear that such requests for suspension would apply in cases of child custody. The overriding concern the courts have in custody questions is what’s best for the children. See SCRA and Child Custody.

My ex, who was determined to be 60 percent disabled, is receiving disability pay. Am I entitled to any of that?

Most likely not. However, if your ex has other sources of income, you could receive a portion of those as spousal support. Keep in mind that the area of military benefits and divorce is extremely complex, so don’t ever try to navigate the matter alone.

How are my military ex’s total pay and benefits added up when it comes to calculating child support?

Your ex’s pay and basic allowance for housing (BAH) and the basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) will figure in here. Keep in mind that housing and subsistence allowances are not subject to taxation and thus do not show up on tax returns, but they will show up on the servicemember’s “Leave and Earnings” (LES) statement. Other sources of income, including “jump pay,” “flight pay,” and a good number of others will show up on this LES statement.

A good number of states, including Tennessee, will figure all sources of income, regardless if these are taxed or not, when it comes to determining child or spousal support, while other states will consider only taxable income.

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.

For more information about divorce planning, download our free e-Book, Your First Steps: 7 Steps Planning Your Tennessee Divorce or, purchase The Tennessee Divorce Client’s Handbook: What Every Divorcing Spouse Needs to Know, available on Amazon and Kindle.

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