Tips You Need To Know

The United States military is waging war against the stress that couples face when one partner is deployed to the Middle East. So far the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard have been successful in winning the battle against divorce in the military.

Military divorce is a couple of pegs below the national average in the civilian population, according to a RAND study. For the military as a whole, the divorce rate was 3.3 percent in 2007 as compared to the civilian population’s divorce rate of 3.6 percent. “Military individuals are human beings with similar marital issues as the civilian population. Military couples have communication problems pertaining to money, sex, family, and spirituality,” said Col. Harry Mathis, an Air Force chaplain who serves on the Chief of Chaplain’s staff in the Pentagon.

Despite the similarities, military officials have been able to bring down the divorce rate. They credit their own efforts. The various service branches have spent millions in recent years on marriage retreats and counseling for married couples and their children.

The only area where the military has fallen short, in comparison to the civilian population, is among women. A RAND Corp. study notes that during the period from 1996 until 2005, enlisted women divorced at a rate of 8.7 percent while married women officers divorced at a rate of 4.7 percent.

Navy Capt. Gregory Caiazzo, a Pentagon spokesman for the Office of the Chief of Navy Chaplains, said, like civilians, the one who didn’t want the divorce faces the hardest time with issues of abandonment, self-worth and betrayal. “If the individual is the one who is leaving, then freedom and relief are the most prominent issues. There is also the issue of a future relationship with one’s ex-spouse, financial responsibilities, alimony, support, and entitlements to retirement,” Caiazzon said.

There are many specific questions in military divorce. John Carney, a Dallas attorney who specializes in military divorces, agreed to answer a few for His website,, is visited by 1 million people a year, Carney says. Read on for our detailed Q and A discussion with Carney.

Q: Is there something special I need to know about getting a divorce from someone in the military — like federal laws I should be aware of, or do I need an attorney that specializes in military divorces?

A: “The simple answer is probably. You enlisted in the military and you’ve been in the service six months and you’re wife wants a divorce. If you have no property, children or a pension your situation is pretty well covered under the Service members Civil Relief Act. However, when you get into a divorce for a career military person who has accumulated a pension, things get more complicated. In these cases, federal law overrides all state law concerning military divorces. Under federal law, if a career service person has been in the military for 10 years or more a portion of his pension is paid directly from the military to the ex-spouse. If the service person has been in the military less than 10 years the pension money is paid to the soldier and he in turn is required to send a portion of his pension to his ex-spouse.”

Q: The RAND Corp. completed a recent study on divorce in the military. It concluded that despite the multiple 15-month deployments of service personnel to Iraq and Afghanistan the rate of military divorces was holding steady at 3.3 percent per 1,000. What’s your opinion of the think-tank’s findings on divorce in the military?

A: It’s baloney. The military divorce rate is high and it’s going higher. I’ve got my hand on the soldier’s pulse here in north Texas. In recent months I’ve received hundreds of calls from soldiers seeking divorces. I’m getting 15 divorce calls a day from service personnel wanting divorces. Extended deployment overseas is clearly had an impact on marriage failures.

Q: My spouse and I are getting divorced and I am former military. Will she get any of my retirement benefits?

A: Yes, she will get a portion of your retirement benefits unless there was a signed agreement where she relinquished her claim to the benefits.

Q: I am a divorced woman with children. The children’s father is in the military and lives in another state. Are there any military travel benefits that would help me when I send the children to visit him?

A: No.

Q: Is there any legal assistance for me given I’m divorcing someone in the military?

A: No. The military doesn’t provide a lawyer for service members or their spouses.

Q: What military benefits will I lose if I divorce someone in the military?

A: The number one issue, other than a portion of your spouse’s pension, is the continuation of medical insurance. This is a complex area, but an ex-spouse is entitled to medical benefits paid for by the military if they meet the 20-20-20 test — a complicated set of requirements.

Q: My military spouse is having an affair, can I get him charged with conduct unbecoming an officer?

A: I think the real response in the context of divorce is that adultery can be a factor impacting property division and spousal support.

Q: My military spouse is having an affair with someone else in the military. He wants a divorce. What can I do?

A: Most states are no fault states were either party can get a divorce without agreement or consent of the other party.

Don Moore is a veteran newspaper editor and reporter who spent more than 40 years working at newspapers around Florida. He recently retired from the Port Charlotte, Fla., Sun-Herald. He can be reached at