Did you know combat veterans are more likely to get divorced than to actually see combat? An estimated 62% of first marriages for combat vets end in divorce. To make matters worse, female enlisted soldiers have more than double the divorce rate compared to female officers.

No matter the reason for it, a divorce can turn your world upside down. It can get especially complicated if one or both spouses are in the military. There are many military divorces differ from civilian ones.

California has specific rules for obtaining a military divorce that must be followed to get a divorce finalized in court. This article covers filing and serving procedures, property division, child custody, and alimony. We also provide information on how you can get assistance for your California military divorce.

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Grounds for a Military Divorce in California

In California, every divorce starts by filing a petition for marriage dissolution. The petition includes the grounds or reason for the divorce. The grounds for divorce in the Golden State are similar whether you’re filing for a military or a civilian divorce. They are:

  • Irreconcilable differences – When a couple has no desire to stay together anymore for whatever reason.
  • Permanent legal incapacity of one spouse – When one spouse is proven to be clinically insane. To file this way, you must provide the court with a support order showing your spouse is legally incapable.

California is a no-fault divorce state, which means factors like adultery or desertion can’t be used as grounds for divorce. Those fault-based grounds can sometimes be brought up in court for consideration in decisions about child custody and dividing property.

Filing Procedure for Military Members

The filing procedure for divorce in California involves several key steps. First, you must gather the divorce petition documents and fill out the required initial forms. These forms are available for free online or from the county clerk’s office. It’s a good idea to have a legal document assistant review your forms before you file them. Once the divorce papers are ready, file them with the required filing fee (usually $435, but it can vary) at your local superior court.

The next step is to inform your soon-to-be ex-spouse that you have initiated the divorce proceedings. You have to “serve” your spouse or domestic partner with copies of the divorce petition and summons for dissolution. You can’t give these forms to your spouse yourself; you must find someone (friend, relative, process server, county sheriff, etc.) to deliver the divorce papers on your behalf. The server must sign a “proof of service” form that lets the court know your spouse has been served.

Alternatively, if your spouse is cooperating with you, then they can accept service by mail. They’ll simply need to sign a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt. Service is a very important step of the divorce procedure, so make sure you do it correctly.

The receiving spouse has 30 days from the date of service to file a response. The divorce is considered “uncontested” if the response agrees with the terms in the petition. The receiving spouse can also choose to do nothing, which basically means whatever the filing spouse is asking for in the petition will likely be granted by the judge.

The next step is filing and serving a financial disclosure. This has to be done no more than 60 days after the petition is filed. You and your spouse are each supposed to provide written information about your assets and debts so that you can divide them equally.

The last steps depend on whether or not your divorce is contested or uncontested. If it’s the latter, then all you two need to do is write up and notarize an agreement and fill out the final forms asking for judgment. Both parties will receive a final judgment from a court clerk.

On the other hand, if your divorce is contested, then you should speak to a divorce attorney to discuss your options.

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Things to Consider Before Filing for Military Divorce

Residency Requirements

Since active military members are stationed throughout the U.S. and world, you may run into issues when considering where to file your divorce petition. In a typical marriage, a spouse will file for divorce in the county in which they live. A military spouse must file the papers where the service member is stationed or the state where they are a resident.

If you want to file for divorce in California, then one of you must either reside or have a station in the state. For your petition to be considered, you must be a California resident for at least six months and must have lived in the filing county for at least three months. If neither of you meets the residency requirements, then you’ll need to wait to file your case or file in whatever state one of you has residency.

Military Spouse Deployment

The rules are different if you file for divorce while your spouse is deployed or on active duty for an extended period. As in a civilian divorce, you must serve the divorce petition and summons to your spouse, but active deployment can complicate the process.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protects active-duty military members from civil judicial proceedings, including divorce summons. In a civil divorce, a spouse who ignores the summons gets no say in property division or child custody decisions.

Active members of the military can’t respond because of SCRA, so the default process does not apply. Federal law takes precedence; default judgments can’t be taken against service members who are on active duty. Therefore, if a non-military spouse files for divorce, there won’t be any court hearings until active duty ends. SCRA also postpones divorce proceedings for an additional 90 days after the military spouse completes their service.

Property Division

Military divorces have the same rules for property division as civilian divorces. California is a community property state, which means all property and debt acquired over the course of the marriage is considered joint property and must be divided equally. Assets acquired before the marriage or inherited or gifted during the marriage are considered “separate property” and can remain with an individual spouse.

Divorcing spouses can agree to divide their property on their own. If they can’t reach an agreement, then the court will decide who gets what. This process can end up causing delays.

Spousal Support

Just like in civilian divorces, a military spouse who earns more than their partner can be ordered to pay spousal support during the divorce proceedings. The amount is determined by a judge using factors such as:

  • The duration of the marriage
  • Financial needs and obligations of both spouses
  • The dependent spouse’s education level and skills for employment
  • Age and health of each spouse

As a general rule, spousal support can’t be more than 60% of the military spouse’s pay. If a couple has been married less than 10 years, alimony only needs to be paid for an amount of time equal to half the length of the marriage. Alimony payments stop when the dependent spouse remarries or passes away.

Child Custody and Support

California courts don’t discriminate against a military parent who may be on active duty when deciding on child custody. The fact that a military parent can be deployed out of state or overseas at any time is not enough to change a custody order or visitation schedule.

It’s generally a good idea for military families with minor children to get an uncontested divorce if they agree on all of the terms of their divorce, including child custody issues. That way, the parents are free to decide custody and visitation issues on their own, without the court having to intervene.

Child support payments are calculated using the state’s guidelines. Factors the court takes into consideration include household income, the number of kids, and the time the children spend with each parent. Like with alimony payments, child support payments can’t exceed 60% of a military member’s pay.

Dividing Military Retirement Benefits

Military divorces have specific laws that govern the division of military retirement benefits. Members of the U.S. Armed Forces receive retirement benefits that usually account for most of the family’s marital property. However, California is a community property state and military retirement are considered assets subject to division by the court in a divorce. Unlike other statues, there is not required length of marriage for a members spouse to be entitled to a portion of the member’s military benefits.

Whether the divorce case involves a spouse who is in the military, the benefits accrued during marriage are usually considered part of the distributed assets. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) ensures former military spouses numerous benefits after the divorce, including free medical care, use of military exchanges and commissaries, and eligibility for the survivor’s benefit plan (SBP).

Get Help With Your Military Divorce

Military divorces have rules and intricacies that can be complicated and difficult to understand. If you want to finalize your divorce in California without involving a divorce attorney, contact A People’s Choice. We can assist you by providing you with all the required divorce documents and helping you file everything needed to successfully dissolve your marriage.

Many aspects of a military divorce differ significantly from civilian divorce proceedings. A legal document assistant can ensure you are following state and federal laws. Call us today to get started!

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