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Veterans and Military Families in Divorce and Separation

Beyond the usual issues in any separation or divorce, which can be stressful enough, military families have other special “layers” that apply. Family law statutes for child custody and support, alimony, divorce and property division are very specific and apply only in the state where they were written, with some exceptions.  One exception is the federal law that applies to those serving in the military or those who are veterans, and their families.

State Law

North Carolina has number of unique state laws that apply to military families, such as the Uniform Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act, as it is currently known.  That law allows certain deploying parents to create out-of-court temporary agreements with the other parent that will be enforced by the court on a temporary basis while the parent is deployed. Approved topics include the frequency of communication with the deployed parent while deployed, the type of communication, such as Skype, and even the ability to permit visitation time to the family member of the parent or even an unrelated person.  

Federal Law

Military families are also subject to special federal statutes, including laws that determine which state has jurisdiction, which is the court’s authority to hear a case and enter court orders. Special federal laws control which state can divide retirement benefits, which may be different from the state that has the ability to divide the other marital assets. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act adds unique protections for certain service members who are served with lawsuits.

Federal law creates requirements for how long a spouse or former spouse must be married to be eligible for certain military benefits, or when he or she must elect or decline benefits. The state can’t change or override those rules.  Besides base pay, there are allowances such as Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), and various special incentive payments. Military pay and compensation is sometimes taxed, and sometimes not taxed. The IRS, another federal agency, devotes a publication to military families, and gives extensions of time to file tax returns in certain situations. In long-term marriages, when there is a divorce, spouses are entitled to Tricare when there are adequate years of service overlapping with years of marriage. GI Bill educational benefits are now transferable to spouses and children when the family meets eligibility requirements. 

Military Bureaucracy

The military has independent regulations, which apply even if no lawsuit has been filed. For example, regulations require service members to voluntarily pay support to their families. Some rules apply to all branches of the military, but there are often different rules for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Reserve, National Guard, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). There are also special rules for civilian employees, and those who have had both military and other federal employment. Rights are subject to change when the servicemember makes elections for benefits, such as converting retirement to disability, or makes certain retirement elections, like the Career Status Bonus.

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