Divorce law can be a complex topic for those unfamiliar with the field. At the law firm of Fischer & Van Thiel, LLP, we have taken it upon ourselves to ensure that you are familiar with each issue that arises in a divorce.
The SCRA was enacted in order to help protect service member’s rights if and when they are called to active duty. It protects regular service branch members, in conjunction with members of the Coast Guard serving on active duty in support of the armed forces, members of the National Guard when serving in an active duty status under federal orders, and Reserve members who are called to active duty. The SCRA affords the right for any court proceedings to be put on hold, or provided a “stay” to postpone any administrative activity if a member’s active duty has an effect on their ability to proceed in the case. This specifically applies to child custody issues as well and a stay of court and administrative proceedings would be afforded in order to protect the non-present spouse’s parental rights. The SCRA would be incredibly helpful if a spouse were to attempt to change the status of child custody while the service member is deployed. A ninety-day stay is automatically granted when a service member requests this protection in writing. However, any further delay is decided at the discretion of the judge, hearing officer or magistrate that is assigned to the matter. This protection is not afforded nor does it protect a member’s invocation right for any criminal court proceedings. There are also many individual state laws related to military child custody. Through the USA4 Military Families initiative, the DoD is partnering with states in order to further support military families. Specifically USA4 Military Families is striving to educate policymakers and ensure deployment separation does not determine child custody decisions.
As with normal civilians, military couples are presented with child custody issues if they are seeking dissolution of marriage. Members of the military are aware that active duty often requires time away from home due to deployments, training or frequent relocations. These factors may present custody issues, however there are ways to prevent or relieve some of the stresses that can evolve in a military divorce regarding child custody matters. A Family Care Plan is highly recommended and sometimes required in order to clarify necessary details about the care of your child if a service member is called to active duty or deployed at no notice. Although most couples aren’t required to establish a family care plan, if you are or become a single parent due to death of spouse, separation/divorce, a service member can remain active but must meet the family care requirements of DOD – essentially requiring such members to have a “family care plan.” A Family Care Plan is a set of documents describing who will care of your child during specific instances or if a military member is away on deployment or training. When it comes to a Family Care Plan there are some slight differences depending on the service, however most have three basic requirements: short-term care providers, long-term care providers, and care provision details. These support details include naming who will care for the child, financial details, medical specifications, and logistical considerations pertaining to food, housing, transportation, etc. These named care providers must be a non-military person, who agrees, in writing to accept the care of the member’s child or children. This person will also sign the Family Care Plan, indicating they consent and understand the responsibilities they are being entrusted with.
A couple filing for a military divorce has many facets to consider. With the marriage to a member of the military come many rights, protections and benefits. In June of 1981 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that treating military retired pay as community property was unlawful. In response Congress enacted the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA), which decreed that state courts could allow retired military pay to be treated as property and therefore divisible between parties.
With this decree of the USFSPA, it has become very important that both parties know their rights when it comes to the separation of themselves and their property, both physically and legally. Most notably of these concerns are usually the military spouse’s continued eligibility for commissary, their eligibility for a portion of the service member’s military retirement pay, and exchange and health care benefits.
The USFSPA does not automatically protect a spouse’s right to any of the above benefits. For example, the federal law allows the state to consider the retirement pay a marital asset and therefore it can be divided in a divorce action. The USFSPA also provides something called a Survivor’s Benefit Plan, which can name a former spouse as a beneficiary and provide continued income in the event of a military member’s death. Under certain circumstances a former spouse may also receive continued commissary, health and exchange benefits after a military divorce is ordered. If you are seeking a military divorce and would like to know more about the benefits, protections or rights afforded under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, contact an experienced local Family Law attorney today.