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Divorce is already a difficult and painful experience, but if either you or your spouse are in the military, it can become even more complicated.
As one of Colorado Springs’ most reputable family law firms, Marrison Family Law is intimately familiar with the specific rules and procedures pertaining to military divorce. Our lawyers have helped hundreds of military families in the Colorado Springs area, and we can help you as well.
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Determining Jurisdiction for your Military Divorce
Military divorce is a lot different than a civilian divorce. Military divorce rules are dictated by a combination of state and federal laws. While military pensions and certain emergency child support orders are governed by federal law, state laws still cover all other matters pertaining to divorce.
Normally, getting a divorce would require at least one party to be a legal resident of the State, but with a military divorce, it is likely that neither spouse has established legal residency in Colorado. Even if you or your spouse has been deployed from Fort Carson, Schriever or Peterson AFB, this does not mean that Colorado residency has been established. State courts cannot hear a divorce case unless it has the authority or jurisdiction. Before filing for a divorce in Colorado Springs, military families must first determine which court has jurisdiction over their case.
The state has jurisdiction over your military case if it passes 2 stipulations. First, the state must establish personal jurisdiction over the parties. Personal jurisdiction can be based on where you are stationed, where you or your spouse resides, or the state where the military member claims residency. Secondly, the state must establish “subject matter jurisdiction” or authority over the matter in dispute. In order to decide a case, the state court must have both subject and personal jurisdiction.
DFAS and Military Pensions in Colorado
As in all other states, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) manages the payment of military retirement benefits and pensions. Because any assets acquired during the marriage are considered “marital property”, DFAS benefits will be subject to the “equitable distribution” laws of Colorado.
Military Retirements are subject to a formula governed by Federal law. In Colorado, we call this the “Hunt/Gallo” formula, named after the two primary cases in Colorado which recognized the Federal formula. Essentially, the spouse's share of the military retirement is calculated according to [years in service while married]/[total years in service] divided by two. As this is a matter of Federal law, the retirement rules are fixed, and Colorado will normally not deviate from the formula. However, the court is free to adjust other assets to achieve an equitable result.
Concerning medical benefits, the law provides a military spouse with life-long medical benefits provided that the couple was married more than twenty years while the service member was in the military. Because of the 20/20-year rule, it may not make sense for a disabled spouse to file for divorce until they have been married for twenty years while the service member was in service. Sometimes couples will file for legal separation to achieve the 20 years of marriage/20 years of service requirement. There are endless factors involved when getting a military divorce, which is why it's imperative to have a lawyer on your side.
Divorcing while on active-duty is possible, but it can be tricky. Our divorce lawyers are familiar with this process and well equipped to assist soldiers with initiating a divorce, or responding to filings, even if they are deployed overseas. In fact, a divorce can be started by email.
Many of our military clients have obtained a divorce via email while deployed overseas. A signed fee agreement is sent to us by conventional mail, but all other legal correspondence can take place via email or telephone.
If you're in the military and are planning to get a divorce in the Colorado Springs area, call us at (719) 577-9292. We will answer your questions and help you determine the best course of action. There is absolutely no obligation, and your divorce consultation will be 100% confidential, so there is no risk.