The complexities of military divorce in Texas

Military families in Texas should be aware of the laws that govern a divorce and heed experts’ advice on how to proceed.

The recent hack into Ashley Madison, a website that enables people to engage in extramarital affairs, exposed millions of men and women in Texas and across the country. According to Slate, many public figures' email addresses were released in the data dump this past August. Among those were 15,000 email addresses associated with either the military or government agencies.

Experts believe that the hack will result in an increase in divorces. Military members in Texas should have an understanding of what it means to go through that process.

Filing for the divorce

When a military family opts for divorce, the petition must be filed in the Texas county in which the family lives. Texas requires that anyone asking for a divorce in the state must have lived there for at least 90 days. Military members who have been stationed in the state for that timeframe will qualify.

In a typical divorce, one spouse could be held in default for failing to respond to certain actions. However, military members are often located overseas or in areas in which communication is limited. The Service Members Civil Relief Act provides protection from default for military members. Therefore, as long as the person is on active duty and for an additional 60 days afterward, the divorce proceeding may be postponed. Military members can waive the postponement if they desire to do so.

Benefits

One key consideration for any military family going through divorce is what will happen to each spouse's benefits. The National Military Family Association notes that during the separation, both spouses will continue to have benefits and their military ID cards. The service member's benefit options should not change.

A former non-military spouse who is either 20/20/20 (married for 20 years or longer, has 20 years of service and has a 20-year overlap between military service and marriage) or 20/20/15 will typically be able to keep medical benefits and exchange privileges. Spouses who are not 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 and who are not eligible for military medical care have the option to enroll in the Continued Health Care Benefit Program through the U.S. Department of Defense for up to 36 months.

Considerations for couples with children

Texas asks that people with children who are divorcing agree on a written parenting plan. The NMFA reminds service members to consider the following when developing a parenting plan:

  • What will happen during a deployment?
  • What will happen if the service member is transferred out of Texas or the country?
  • What will happen if a spouse remarries?

When parents cannot reach an agreement on the plan, a judge can submit a ruling.

Property division

Under federal law, couples that have been married for 10 years or longer will have to share in the military member's retirement benefits. Texas has an additional law that applies to couples married of any length of time: Any benefits accrued during the marriage will be subject to division. Other assets will typically be divided in accordance with Texas' existing community property laws.

Each divorce is different, and military members may especially find themselves in a complex situation. Anyone with questions about this matter should consult with a family law attorney.