I have several close friends who have served in the military, and I always love to hear their stories when we get together. Unfortunately, however, I typically need a translator because the military has an acronym for everything. It’s not a job, it’s an “MOS.” It’s not exercise, it’s “PT.” And even if it sounds normal, it’s different for the military—”POV” is privately owned vehicle, not point-of-view. To make it even more complicated, if the entire armed forces speaks its own language, it seems like every branch has its own dialect.
It’s the same when it comes to family law issues like divorce, child custody, visitation, and child support—the military truly speaks its own language. Everything is more complicated when one party is in the armed forces. Family law is usually a state issue, but when one party is a service member, suddenly the federal government has something to say about nearly everything. Family law for military members even has its own acronyms like SCRA (Servicemembers Civil Relief Act) and USFSPA (Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act).
Consider the differences in service for members of the military. Ordinarily, it’s a straightforward process to make sure that a party gets “served”—a copy of divorce papers, for example. But what if that person lives on a military base? Or what if that person is deployed in Afghanistan? Or what if that person will be on a submarine for the next three months?
Residence is another aspect of family law that is usually simple. It’s not normally hard to determine where a person lives, but a person serving in the military may spend his or her entire career moving between different parts of the country or even different continents. How can a court determine whether or not they have any legal power over a person when he or she moves every two years and may own property in several different locations?
Finally, there are also complicated family law issues about how to understand military pay and benefits. How does BAH (basic allowance for housing) factor in to child support calculations? How should a court divide a retired service member’s pension at divorce?
It is no easy task to navigate military regulations, especially those in the area of family law. This is just one more reason to be thankful for those who serve.