Military Divorce vs. Civilian Divorce in California

Active duty service men and women are stationed worldwide, and families often spend months or even years apart. This can be a strain on any relationship, and divorce is not uncommon for married couples. Unfortunately, a military divorce is just as complicated as a military marriage.

Filing for Divorce in California

The first step in filing for a military divorce is to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. To file in California, you need to be a county resident for 3 months, and a state resident for 6 months. Your deployed spouse doesn’t have to be in California when you file, but does have to be served papers for the divorce to proceed.

The process is exactly like a civilian divorce if your military spouse is stationed in the United States. However, serving papers may require the assistance of a sheriff if your spouse lives at a military base. The best way to ensure you’re following state and federal laws in your military divorce is to hire a divorce attorney

Comparatively, serving divorce papers to a deployed spouse can be a painstaking challenge. The Servicemembers Civil Relief ACT (SCRA) postpones divorce proceedings to protect active duty military personnel who can’t answer a summons. In a civilian divorce, a lack of response can lead to an uncontested divorce. SCRA ensures service members have the opportunity to fairly split property and fight for child custody. 

Summary Dissolution

If your divorce is uncontested, you may be eligible for a summary dissolution in California. If both spouses meet the requirements, they can file a Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution. A servicemember overseas must sign and mail the forms back to their spouse, who can then file the joint petition.

To be eligible for summary dissolution, a couple must:

  • Be married for less than 5 years
  • Have limited debts
  • Decline spousal support options
  • Have no children

Child Custody

Whether military or civilian, your child custody agreement must serve the best interests of your child. Custody agreements aim to be equally fair to both parents, but the child is always the priority. The military is very strict about service members complying with court-appointed financial support payments and custody orders. Military personnel who fail to support their dependents may face administrative discharge proceedings.

Determining custody and visitation rights can get very complicated when a parent is serving in the military. Custody proceedings still determine regular visitation hours, but accommodations are often made to account for the unpredictability of a military schedule.

It’s best to plan for all possible circumstances when it comes to determining your custody agreement. If the military parent is likely to be deployed or get transferred out of state, you can add a provision to the custody agreement that allows your child to regularly communicate with them. If the transfer is long-lasting or permanent, you can plan long-distance visitation schedules that benefit your ex and child.

Depending on the term of deployment, your child may also benefit from visitation hours spent with your ex’s family members. This alternative representative must be approved by both spouses.

Alternative representatives can include, but are not limited to:

  • Stepparents
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts or uncles
  • Older siblings

We Can Represent You

Contact Singleton Smith Law Offices if you’re interested in filing for a military divorce.  We can offer legal guidance and representation as you complete this unique divorce process. If you’re an active duty servicemember, we can communicate by phone or email so your divorce affects your service as little as possible.  

Contact Singleton Smith Law Offices at (951) 779-1610 to schedule a free consultation.

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