Military Divorce – Special Considerations and Complications

The state of New Mexico is home to more than 14,000 active-duty service members [1], and over 9% of the state’s population is made up of military veterans. This is largely due to a strong military presence in the state courtesy of the military bases that many service people and their families call home.

Service life is not for everyone. The stress experienced by service people can adversely affect their mental health, while their spouses often experience feelings of abandonment as they are left behind when their spouse deploys on active duty. Regularly moving makes it hard to lay down roots, while living separate lives for prolonged periods can make it hard to settle into domestic life once reunited. These are just some of the reasons divorces are prevalent in the military community.

Why military divorces are complicated

Although the reasons service people and their spouses pursue divorce are well recognized, military divorces are considerably more complex than civilian ones. This is because military divorces are subject to federal law and military regulations, with the distribution of military benefits being strictly governed, while custody and timesharing determinations are complicated by the potential for short-notice deployment of the service person.

Where to file for divorce

For some couples, knowing when and where they need to file a divorce case is difficult and depends on their personal circumstances. They can file in the state where the service member is currently stationed if they have been in this location for a minimum of six months, the state in which they or their spouse claims legal residency, or, in New Mexico, if the military spouse had resided continuously in New Mexico for at least six months immediately prior to his or his spouse’s entry into any military branch of the United States government, who is stationed or whose spouse is stationed at any military base or installation outside of New Mexico and who has a present intention in good faith to return and to reside in this state permanently or indefinitely.

When to file for divorce

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act [3] provides additional protections for servicemembers that are on active duty when a civil case is initiated against them. SCRA protects against the entry of a “Default Judgment”, which is where a party fails to answer a lawsuit and a judgment is entered against them. It additionally allows for delays in civil cases where the servicemember cannot participate due to their deployment. This is designed to relieve stress on that individual or their family, but it can also act as a barrier to progressing a divorce.

It is challenging to file for divorce when the service person is deployed overseas because it can be necessary to comply with the laws of the country in which they are serving which can cause service to be difficult.

Law firms that are familiar with military divorce law in Albuquerque ( can help you navigate this process.

Child custody and timesharing

The court of New Mexico always prioritizes the needs of the child in any divorce. However, the Court also believes that spending time with both parents is important to the child’s well being. Developing a fair custody arrangement is complicated when one parent may be deployed on active duty at short notice or required to regularly relocate around the country for their job.

If the parents can agree on a workable solution between themselves, this will simplify court proceedings. Possible solutions include the active service person having custody during their leave periods or upon return from deployment, as long as this will not adversely affect the child’s educational needs. Parents can also be required to implement a schedule of video calls if the service person will be deployed in a geographically remote location from their child for prolonged periods.

Division of assets and financial benefits

Being married to an active service person can make it challenging to hold down regular employment. After all, moving regularly and often at short notice can make it difficult to maintain employment for long periods of time. Significantly, military pensions and benefits can be complicated to divide and rely on a variety of circumstances to determine whether the non-member spouse can continue to receive those benefits.

For this reason, military spouses are entitled to various government benefits, some of which they can retain their entitlement to even after divorce. The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act [4] provides protection to military spouses who were married to an active service person, entitling them to a portion of their spouse’s retirement pay, treatment at military healthcare centers, and in some cases, a Survivor Benefit Plan that protects them in the event of the death of the service person.

Legal support is available

At the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer, we recognize and appreciate the immense contribution and sacrifices of our military personnel and their families, and we aim to provide adequate protection to all parties in the event of a divorce. To find out more or discuss your impending divorce, contact us today.