Any divorce can be a complicated and stressful time, but the issues involved can become even more complex if one spouse is an active member of the military. When you or your spouse is a member of the United States Armed Forces, it can affect where you file for divorce as well health coverage, retirement benefits, and the determination of child custody and support.
While divorce remains a civilian matter, the military may provide service members and their spouses some limited legal assistance. A Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer or legal assistance office can provide limited guidance, but they cannot draft court documents or represent either party in court.
Chester County Military Divorce Lawyer
If you and your spouse are seeking a divorce in Pennsylvania and one or both of you are active members of the military, it is critical for you to work with an experienced family law attorney. Ciccarelli Law Offices has helped soldiers and veterans serving in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as spouses in Chester County, Delaware County, Lancaster County, Montgomery County, and Philadelphia County.
Our firm is dedicated to helping you through a very difficult time by vigilantly protecting your best interests.
Call (610) 692-8700 or send an online message for a free consultation so we can act as soon as possible. We are based in West Chester PA and serve clients throughout Chester County, Lancaster County and suburban Philadelphia including West Chester, Kennett Square, Oxford, Avondale, Landenberg, West Grove, Paoli, Malvern, Downingtown, Coatesville, Exton, Parkesburg, Berwyn and Devon. We have convenient meeting locations in Lancaster, Philadelphia, Plymouth Meeting, Kennett Square, Malvern, Springfield, King of Prussia, and Radnor. Our family lawyers serve those with immediate legal needs in Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County and Lancaster County.
Chester County Military Divorce Information Center
- How does this type of divorce affect retirement benefits?
- What effects does a divorce have on Survivor Benefit Plans?
- How are health care benefits affected by this kind of divorce?
- What happens to children in these types of divorces?
Military retirement benefits can be one of the major assets of a divorce case. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) governs how military retirement benefits are calculated and divided. Depending on the length of the marriage, retirement benefits may be distributed through Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), the United States Department of Defense (DoD) agency that pays military personnel and retirees.
Whether a military spouse is paid directly by DFAS depends on whether he or she satisfies the terms of the “20/10/10 Rule,” commonly referred to as the “Ten Year Rule.” The numbers here refer to:
- 20 years of military service required to earn retirement benefits
- 10 years is the minimum amount of time that marriage needs to have lasted
- 10 years is the amount of time that the military service needs to have overlapped with the marriage
If a marriage satisfies all the terms of the Ten Year Rule, then the spouse can be eligible to receive payments directly from DFAS. If these terms are not satisfied, the spouse may have to collect payments from the military member instead of DFAS.
The USFSPA also allows a former spouse to be designated as the beneficiary of a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). These plans are paid for by monthly deductions from the military member’s retirement pay. If this plan is not in place, then all retirement pay ceases upon the military member’s death.
A court may order a military member to provide SBP coverage as part of a divorce settlement, but the coverage is not automatic. Either the military member or the spouse needs to submit a request to the appropriate service center.
A former spouse will be ineligible for benefits if he or she remarries before the age of 55. However, eligibility may be restored if that remarriage ends.
Military members and their families receive health care from TRICARE, a program of DOD’s Military Health System. Following a divorce, the former spouse of a military member can still receive TRICARE coverage if they qualify under one of the following rules:
- The 20/20/20 Rule — Under this rule, former spouses may continue their medical coverage under TRICARE if the marriage lasted at least 20 years, the military member served has at least 20 years of service, and the marriage and the military service overlapped by at least 20 years. As long as the former spouse does not remarry and does not enroll in an employer-sponsored health insurance plan, he or she can receive comprehensive medical coverage until he or she is eligible for Medicare.
- The 20/20/15 Rule — This rule has many of the same requirements, but the required overlap is 15 years instead of two decades. The benefits are not as extensive as those available under the 20/20/20 rule.
If a former spouse does not qualify under the 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 rules, he or she may still be eligible for the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). This program provides temporary health care coverage with benefits that are similar to those in TRICARE, but former spouses have to pay for participation and they will not have access to military treatment facilities or pharmacies.
Much like traditional civilian divorces, child custody and child support are enormously challenging and emotional issues. Under Pennsylvania Consolidated Statute Title 51 § 4109, a court cannot issue new orders or enter orders modifying or amending previous judgments or orders that affect child custody if the military member is deployed in support of a contingency operation.
Failure to appear at court proceedings because of deployment cannot be held against a service member or used in deciding the best interest of a child. In Pennsylvania a service member can petition the court for a temporary order to temporarily assign custody rights to his or her family members.
Determining child support in these cases can be even more complicated because of the variables in a service member’s income. In addition to a base salary, a military spouse can also receive allowances for food, housing, and other considerations. It is important to work with a knowledgeable attorney in these cases to ensure that you acquire all of the necessary information that allows you to receive all of the compensation you need for child support.
Finding A Military Family Law Attorney in West Chester
Ciccarelli Law Offices represents members of the U.S. Armed Forces and the spouses of service members during divorce proceedings. We fight on behalf of clients all over Chester County, including such communities as Coatesville, Downingtown, Easttown, Kennett Square, Phoenixville, West Caln, West Chester, and West Goshen.
Our firm is dedicated to obtaining the most favorable outcome to your case. Call (610) 692-8700 right now to have us evaluate your legal options during a free, no obligation consultation.