With so many military bases in North Carolina, the Tarheel State is home for thousands of US service members and their families. Just like civilian families, there are times when the marriage simply doesn’t work out and the couple chooses to divorce. While civilian and military divorce in NC are similar, there are a few important differences between the two. To help you understand, our military divorce lawyers in Raleigh are breaking down how the process works and why it’s important to have a legal advocate who’s working on your behalf to achieve a favorable outcome.
Filing for a Military Divorce in North Carolina
For civilian couples, in order to file for divorce in North Carolina, one party must have been a resident for at least six months and the couple must have been separated for at least one year, living apart without acting in any way as a married couple. In the case of military divorce, the one-year separation still applies, but one party must only need to be stationed at and living on a military base within North Carolina for six months prior to filing in order to be considered a resident.
If you are seeking to have divorce papers served, your spouse generally has 30 days to respond. However, if your spouse is a service member on active duty, there are two issues that could complicate the divorce. If they are in a hostile area, it may be impossible for a process server to serve the papers, and, if they do, the response period may be extended to 90 days. In order to receive the extension the service member being served must submit the request in writing and must provide adequate proof that military service prevents them from answering. The court will decide whether the proof is valid and grant or deny the request base on the reasoning submitted. The service member may file for multiple 90-day extensions but this cannot postpone the divorce forever and the court may deny any of the extension requests if there is not adequate proof that they are unable to respond.
Access to Legal Counsel
Each branch of the military makes legal assistance attorneys available to both service members and spouses, free of charge. Your legal assistance office can provide you with counsel and advice on legal issues, but the legal assistance attorneys are not legally able to represent you in court. If you have concerns about a contested divorce, a child custody battle, or property distribution, you will need to hire a private attorney who is experienced and knowledgeable in military divorce in North Carolina.
Child Custody During a Military Divorce in NC
If you and your spouse have children together, determining child custody is generally held to the same guidelines as non-military parents. However, issues like deployment will need to be entered into a custody agreement or consent order to include things like time for video calls or adding missed visitation time when the deployed parent returns. Similarly, if one parent moves farther away or is stationed elsewhere, the parents will need to establish a visitation exchange location or who will be paying for any transportation costs.
Perhaps the biggest difference between military divorce and civilian is that a service member who fails to pay child support is not only subject to traditional court methods of collection, they can also be held accountable through the military court system.
Division of Military Pension, Benefits, and Property
When you’re considering property distribution, it’s important to factor that North Carolina is equitable distribution state meaning that during divorce proceedings, the court will determine what is fair (not equal) distribution of the marital property. The military presents unique challenges to property distribution, however. Military pension and benefits go beyond what most civilians divide between themselves during a divorce.
Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, if a former spouse has been married to the service member for at least 10 years, during which the member performed at least 10 years of creditable service, the former spouse may receive direct retired pay benefits.
In addition, there is what is known as the 20/20/20 rule. It states that if you have been married to a service member for at least 20 years, during which time they served for at least 20 years, you may be entitled to full military benefits including a portion of their retirement, medical benefits through TRICARE, as well as commissary and exchange privileges.
These laws are complex and no benefits are guaranteed in a military divorce. This is why it is imperative to hire an experienced military divorce attorney to ensure you are getting the property and benefits you are entitled to.
Consult With a Military Divorce Attorney
Don’t try to navigate a military divorce on your own. Let the attorneys at The Doyle Law Group in Raleigh provide the guidance and representation you’re entitled to. To learn more or schedule your consultation, call (919) 301-8843 or fill out the contact form below.
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