In many ways, divorce involving a military service member is the same as civilian divorce. The same New Jersey statutes apply to servicemembers as to civilians, which means the courts will take the same approach to deciding issues of child custody, financial support and property division in the event of a contentious process as they would in any other divorce.
Military divorces, however, often involve situations as a result of the unique challenges military families face. Below are three of the most noteworthy ways a military divorce in New Jersey may ultimately differ from a civilian one.
1. Division of benefits
When a civilian divorce is resolved, the final agreement or order often includes provisions dealing with health insurance coverage for each spouse and the children. There is also often discussion about obtaining life insurance coverage and how to provide for children going to college. Servicemembers, however, may have certain benefits available to resolve these issues that are not available to civilians. For example, TriCare coverage, Sevicemembers or Veterans Group Life Insurance, and GI Bill benefits may be accessible to former spouses and children. These valuable benefits may help relieve the financial strain on spouses in the divorce. It is important to be well-versed in the regulations governing these benefits, which often involve requirements of a certain amount of service overlapping the marriage. The final divorce agreement should be properly drafted to avoid incurring extra cost to return to court after the divorce to correct errors made as a result of lack of understanding of these unique benefits.
2. Division of assets
It is common for divorce matters in New Jersey to incorporate some provision for dividing retirement and investment accounts. The same general rules govern the division of such assets in for military divorce matters, but there are additional rules and regulations that will apply. These unique regulations may impact everything from how the account is valued, what type of order is needed to divide the asset, the type and availability of survivor benefits, and time deadlines for completing the necessary documents.
3. Child custody
Faily law attorneys are often asked about how deployments, changes of station and other requirements of military service might affect determinations as to custody and parenting time. There are statutes in place to protect servicemembers from having the demands of military service used against them in custody matters. Notwithstanding these legal protections, however, the possibility of extended periods of travel needs to be taken into consideration when resolving custody and parenting time issues. Custody and parenting time arrangements for military families typically need to be more detailed to anticipate circumstances of deployment, TDY and even PCS. Parents need to ensure an appropriate care plan is in place for the children and plans to maintain the relationship between the children and both parents.
Recognizing legal issues unique to military families may help to plan more effectively and to seek legal guidance with specific concerns in mind.