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Military Divorces Versus Civilian Divorces

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Post Author Image This article was reviewed and approved for publication by Attorney Charlotte Christian.
Military Divorces Versus Civilian Divorces

Military and civilian divorces are very similar. The federal government has a laissez-faire attitude about most things concerning family law. When their service members are involved, however, it can be a different story. The following is a basic overview of some of the major differences you can expect between a military divorce and a civilian divorce in Alabama.

Main Differences Between Military & Civilian Divorces


In Alabama, one of the parties is required to be a resident of Alabama for at least six months before filing the divorce decree. A residence can usually be shown when you can show that you have the intent to remain in that area, and do things like change your driving license or license plate or buy a home in the state. In military divorces, this can be complicated. If one spouse is in Alabama, but it is only their base station, then they are not considered to be a resident.

The distinction is important because federal law gives states the power to divide a military pension in a divorce if the military service member has a residence there. So – if the military member is not a resident of Alabama, and the non-military spouse files in Alabama and is anticipating some of their retirement benefits, the state may be without jurisdiction to divide them. Of course, the military spouse can always consent to the court’s division of the pension. However, if there is any uncertainty as to the residence of the military service member, the person should seek the advice of an experienced attorney to discuss their options.


Of course, no one can ever estimate how long a divorce might take, whether it is a civilian or military divorce. In Alabama, the minimum waiting period before a divorce can be finalized in 30 days. This is also the time period within which the responding spouse has to answer a lawsuit. That being said, most divorces take longer than 30 days. If the parties are amenable and can agree to a settlement, divorces can happen within a period of months.

A military divorce can be straightforward; however, if one spouse has been deployed on military duty, the process can take much longer due to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). A service member on active duty can request a ‘stay’ to a divorce, or any other claim if their duty prevents them from participating or responding to the court action. The first stay is a full 90 days. The court can grant additional extensions after this period expires, although of course, this cannot go on forever.

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Child support and alimony are often more generous when given in state court in Alabama; however, in the event, the court does not order alimony or child support, most branches of the military require their service members to give ‘adequate support’ to their family members, unlike in Alabama. For a full overview of support when divorcing in the military, click **here** (link to support article).

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In all divorces – civilian or military – retirement is one of the most complex and important issues to resolve. For most long-term marriages, pension or retirement accounts are usually one of the largest assets to divide.

Alabama is an equitable distribution state, meaning that spouses are entitled to share in the community estate equitably (although not necessarily equally). Usually, retirement accounts, if they are divided, are done through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (or QDRO). However, the federal government may not accept a QDRO when parties choose to decide on a military pension.

Military pensions and other benefits are often dependent on the length of the marriage and the time the military member was in the service for the marriage. Generally speaking, the first moment the federal government can make a direct payment of retirement to a former spouse is after the service member has been employed for ten years of service, with at least ten years of marriage overlapping.

After 20 years of service and marriage overlapping, the non-military spouse is entitled to medical care, privileges at the base exchange, and commissary and direct payment of retirement pay. Determining the exceptions for pension and retirement pay is complex. For a more complete overview of retirement issues within a military divorce, click here **retirement in military article**

Overall, a divorce can be an emotionally draining and complex experience, even for the most amicable couples. It is advisable to seek out the guidance of an accomplished attorney. Contact Alabama Family Law Group today if you have any questions about getting a divorce from a military spouse.

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