5 Tips for Military Spouses who May Be Thinking about Divorce

Deciding whether to stay in a difficult marriage or not is hard enough. When you add military life to the equation, things can get really confusing. Here are five tips to help you navigate terrain you may not be familiar with:

1. Consider couple’s counseling.

No one gets married in the hopes that it will end in divorce. If you feel like there is a chance to salvage the relationship, couple’s counseling is an excellent place to begin.Because so many military divorces follow combat deployments, many researchers attribute them to post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological effects of war. Counseling may help you understand each other better and learn to cope with how each of you may have changed in the time spent apart. “I would suggest that the families realize that their loved one will quite possibly come back a very different individual. War changes people in ways that us laypeople cannot understand,” says Marilyn Anderson, social worker at North Vista Hospital in Las Vegas, Nev.

Even if your marital strain is unrelated to a deployment, you will be more at peace with your decision to split if you know you have given it your best shot. Therapists make good mediators for discussions about those tough problems that tend to end in screaming matches and those that never seem to come up at all.

2. Get your paper work together.

Do not make the assumption that any document is unimportant in divorce. Make sure you have a copy of everything that could need to be changed or that could affect the divorce. Your will, power-of-attorney, children’s birth certificates, mortgage, insurance policies, and paperwork for joint bank accounts and major purchases made as a couple are examples of documents your attorney may need.

3. Find an attorney with experience in military divorce.

In any divorce, it is important to find an experienced attorney, but military divorces have additional complications. All the legal processes will be the same as for a civilian couple on the state level, but there are a few federal laws like the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, that affect military divorce exclusively. When looking for an attorney, it is crucial to find someone who has plenty of experience with the unique circumstances of military divorce and can answer any questions you may have about what to expect. Also, be sure your attorney has experience in mediation and in the courtroom.

4. Use military resources to your advantage.

There are many resources available to military families, and you are still part of one. Judge Advocate General (JAG) can answer some of your legal questions as long as your spouse has not already approached them, and a chaplain or military mental health professional may be available to you for counseling at no cost.The U.S. Armed Forces Legal Assistance (AFLA) is available to active, retired, and reservist military personnel and their lawful dependents free of charge depending on the availability of their staff. You will still be required to pay any court costs.

“Coming from a divorced military family, I remember how helpful the base chaplains were for me as a child caught in the middle,” says Stephen Sochor, Marketing, and Advertising Professional in the Chicago area. “I would recommend that anyone in the service considering divorce discuss their position with both a chaplain and a military lawyer. Since there are a number of circumstances that hinder military marriages vs. those for civilians the best idea would be to seek a counselor who has experience dealing with military families.”

5. Start shopping to replace military benefits you may lose.

While your children will still be covered by your spouse’s health and dental insurance if you decide to get a divorce, you most likely will not be. Do your homework on this one. Research insurance plans so you can get coverage without having to pay the extra cost incurred from a lapse. Also, if you plan on collecting child or spousal support, now is a good time to look into disability insurance for your spouse in case he or she gets injured and cannot pay. Insurancefinder.com is a good place to shop for insurance policies, and the service is free.

About the authorStephanie Baker is a writer of fashion, travel, and lifestyles for McClatchy newspapers and magazines in Georgia.