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Tony R. Bertolino

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With Military Divorces on the Rise, Must Know Legal Rights
by Tony R. Bertolino   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Posted: Tuesday, March 17, 2009

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The stress of not knowing if your family member in uniform is safe can take quite an emotional toll. When you combine these important factors with the long separations that many military couples must endure, as well as the trauma that a soldier experiences on the battlefield and then brings home to his family, there should be little surprise that divorce among families serving our country is a growing concern.

 

There is no doubt, the debt that we owe to America’s men and women who serve in our armed forces is one that we can never fully repay. Such brave soldiers place their lives on the line every day to protect our families and the freedoms that we hold dear as Americans. In our great state of Texas, we are host to many military installations, including Fort Bliss and Fort Hood. We know, as is often correctly reported, that the military families who are left behind to tend to life on the home front face just as many challenges as those who are stationed overseas. Moms or dads suddenly become single parents for months at a time. Births and other milestones come and go without a loved one able to participate. The stress of not knowing if your family member in uniform is safe can take quite an emotional toll. When you combine these important factors with the long separations that many military couples must endure, as well as the trauma that a soldier experiences on the battlefield and then brings home to his family, there should be little surprise that divorce among families serving our country is a growing concern.
With ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women in all branches of our armed forces are being asked to serve long tours that often keep them away from their spouses for a year or more. We are seeing the results of this wartime environment on our military homes. About four percent of enlisted troops in the Army and Marines obtained divorces in the year 2008, which constitutes a 5.4% increase for soldiers and 11% increase for Marines from the previous year. Some veterans groups believe that these statistics do not share the entire story, as they do not include the divorces that occur after couples with already strained marriages leave the service. As with civilian couples, there are a number of situations in which divorce is inevitable. Instances of abuse, infidelity, or other serious betrayals of wedding vows are unfortunately going to occur regardless of the current state of global politics. However, certainly some relationships would not be ending without the enormous impact placed on the marriage by war.
Our military is taking notice of the growing number of divorces within its ranks and is taking steps to protect the marriages of its active members. There are a variety of programs now being offered through the chaplains, mental health counseling networks, support groups for spouses of deployed troops and simply the amazing community that exists among service families. Being the largest branch, the Army naturally has the most comprehensive program for strengthening marriages.   The primary component of the counseling offered is appropriately named “Strong Bonds.” This training is offered mostly as a retreat, which allows couples to focus on reconnecting with one another following a deployment so that they are better equipped to deal with all of the other challenges that life after serving abroad will bring. Participation in Strong Bonds has doubled every year since it began in 2003, with now more than 60,000 couples having taken part in the counseling. My hope is that programs such as this one will be successful in making the need for the divorce attorneys at my law firm to decline.
If a couple decides that the time has come to file for divorce, there are certain laws and requirements unique to military divorce of which both parties should be aware. Most importantly, during this time of war, participants should know that there are specific laws in place that protect active duty members of the military from being held in “default” for failing to respond to divorce papers. The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, 50 UCS section 521, at the discretion of the appropriate Texas court, can postpone divorce proceedings for the entire time that an active service member is on duty and for sixty days after he or she returns home. However, if the service member wants the divorce, this waiting period can be waived and the legal process can move forward.    It is important that our men and women who are on the front lines of battle do not have to deal with the consuming issues that are usually involved with divorce proceedings at the same time.
There is also protection under federal law for the partner in the marriage who is not a member of the armed services. When it comes to the key piece of legislation known as the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, the number “20” is one you need to remember. In order to receive continued benefits from the military, a former spouse must show that the service member served at least twenty years, that the marriage lasted at least twenty years and that the marriage overlapped the service by at least twenty years.  If all three pieces of this numerical puzzle fit together, the estranged husband or wife is designated as a 20/20/20 former spouse and is entitled to full commissary, exchange and health care benefits. 
Of course, there are concerns for a former spouse beyond going to the doctor and being able to buy eggs on base. When it comes to dividing shared property that accrued during the marriage, the same rules will apply in Texas as those that are used in civilian divorces. Concerning the delicate issue of spousal and child support, Texas law states that no more than 60% of a service member’s pay and allowances can be used for such purposes. Other than that restriction, civilian laws concerning support calculations will apply in Texas.
When an unhappy wife complains to a girlfriend about the state of her marriage, the common response is “Get a good lawyer!” This advice, though sometimes flippant in the face of serious problems, holds even more true when one of those involved in an upcoming divorce is a member of the military. There are specific guidelines and exceptions that must be followed when the United States Armed Forces is a third participant in the proceedings. If you have reached the point in your marriage at which divorce is the only remaining option, make sure you are an educated client when you enter an attorney’s office. And, verify that the attorney has experience dealing with the specifics found in military divorce. Knowing that your rights and interests are protected will at least provide some peace of mind during what is otherwise a difficult and emotional time.  http://www.belolaw.com

 

Web Site: Bertolino LLP



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