The troop withdrawal in Iraq marked the end of an era in American history. While thousands of servicemen will return home, it is anticipated that many more divorces will take place. According to a report by USA Today, 30,000 divorces occurred in 2011, and the military divorce rate reached its highest point since 1999. Chaplain Carleton Birch, a spokesman for the Army Office of the Chief of Chaplains, explained that the drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan will put more families together who are not used to being together, which ostensibly will lead to more discord. Overall, the military divorce rate exceeded the civilian rate.

With more military divorces on the horizon in 2012, this article will briefly explore the factors that lead to divorce in military marriages, and explain how such divorces are different than civilian divorces.

Strain on Marriages Because of Time Away

The stress on a marriage is arguably the number one reason that military marriages eventually fail. While marriage requires significant sacrifices, military life requires even more concessions. Servicemen and women were deployed to the Middle East a number of times between 2003 and 2010. Also, the average time of deployment was 12 months. With constant relocation, time away family from loved ones, and high personal stress, it is no secret that military marriages equal (or exceed) the rate of civilian marriages.
Even with the stress of deployment, personal maturity (or the lack thereof) plays a part in the demise of military marriages. Many couples marry young to escape confining small-town lives, or in an attempt to be stationed together. Once they realize that married life is not all love and romance (especially considering how long a spouse is away) divorce is usually the next step.
The strain is especially difficult when women are deployed. According to a report, divorce rates for military women were two to three times higher than men in every branch of the military. This could be attributable to how support services for military families are commonly geared towards helping civilian wives cope with having husbands being deployed, rather than civilian husbands. Marriages between civilian husbands and military wives have the highest likelihood of ending in divorce.
Also, some people may not adjust well when their spouses return home and must deal with the trauma of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When veterans return with PTSD, they often have problems with sexual and emotional intimacy, which often lead to marital problems and divorce.

Differences between military and civilian divorce

There are few differences procedurally between military and civilian divorces, but there are several variables that affect jurisdiction and property division. With regard to jurisdiction, service members may have a choice of which state they consider “home”, since states have a residential requirement (usually 180 days in the same state) that must be satisfied before a divorce may be filed. Also, before a divorce may proceed, the party filing for divorce must adhere to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act if the service member is still on active duty.
With regard to property division, the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) applies. In a nutshell, the USFSPA allows state courts to categorize military benefits (i.e. retirement pay, separation bonuses) as community property that can be divided equally. In its final decree, the court may assign a specific award to provide for a spouse’s share of forthcoming payments when the service member retires or receives benefits.
It is important to understand how these benefits may be awarded as a military couple separates. This is critical because the Act only gives state courts the authority to divide such benefits depending on what is equitable given a particular marital estate. A family law attorney versed in military divorce can explain the Act’s provisions and how property division may be affected by the length of the marriage, a service member’s years of service, restrictions on separation bonuses, and other variables specific to your case.
The preceding is not intended to be legal advice. Contact an attorney to learn more about your rights and options.

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