Because of the sheer number of military families in our area, we get a lot of questions about military divorce. Also because of the sheer number of military families in our area, we handle a lot of military divorces.
In short, it’s safe to say that all six of us can and have handled military divorce cases. In a lot of ways, a military divorce is not really different from a civilian divorce; the actual divorce process itself is the same. You either get a divorce by negotiating a separation agreement and finalizing an uncontested divorce, or you litigate in front of the judge, who decides how your assets and liabilities will be split, before finalizing the divorce.
There are a few things particular to military divorce – specifically, knowing how to handle military retirement, division of the TSP, the specific language to include in the agreement and/or final divorce decree as it relates to disability pay, cost of living adjustments, and so on. It’s important to get the wording right and, without it, DFAS (or even the court) may reject your documents.
Additionally, knowing how to read an LES statement can be critical for calculating child and spousal support payments, as well as understanding exactly what’s happening in the case. Relocation is often an issue in military cases, as well as coming up with workable custody and visitation arrangements in the event of a deployment or change of permanent duty station.
As a military servicemember, or a military spouse, there’s things you need to know, too – for example, that the military ‘ten year’ myth is just that (a myth), and that you cannot consult with a military JAG attorney for a family law matter in Virginia (though the JAG attorney himself or herself may not be the one to tell you this). Like everything else related to divorce, there’s a somewhat steep learning curve, and mistakes can quickly and easily be made.
The long and the short of it is that any of our attorneys are completely competent when it comes to military divorce issues. But that might not be the answer you want, right? You want a name, so that you can be sure that you’re hiring the right person, and not just someone who happens to handle a bunch of military divorces. (I promise – we all do.)
Lori Michaud, with our office, handles a lot of military divorces, and has even been selected to teach other Virginia lawyers how to handle these cases. She has taught continuing legal education (CLE) classes to other local attorneys, and is generally considered to be incredibly knowledgeable. Both Lorna Rhoades and Sheera Herrell are former military spouses; though their husbands are retired from active duty service, they’ve done their time as military spouses and have experienced firsthand what its like to be married to the military. Caitlin Walters is a former military ‘brat’, the daughter of a military doctor (now also retired) who moved across the country several times during the course of her childhood.
In many ways, professionally, we all have ties to military divorce as a practice area. In any case, the six of us often work together, too, rather than in isolation, and we share – multiple times a week – insights from cases that we’ve worked on, updates on statutory and case law, as well as practical practice points to help make sure that all of our cases run smoothly. Rules regarding military cases can change fairly frequently, which might be a problem for solo practitioners or those without so many personal and professional ties to military divorce practice, but it’s something that we take in stride.
Whether you hire Lori, Sheera, Lorna, Caitlin – or Ashli or even me – you can be sure that you’re getting someone who has taken these cases to court, who has negotiated agreements, who has successfully divided military retirement and TSPs, who has negotiated relocation cases, who has handled issues related to deployments and permanent changes of duty station and who really understands what it means to be a military spouse.
Divorce isn’t easy under any circumstances, but working with an attorney (or a team of 6 – because that’s really what we are) who understands military divorce and is prepared to help you receive the best end result possible, you’ll be in great hands.
Oh – and one more thing! You need to do your bit, too. You’ll want to be as informed as possible when you go in to that initial consultation so that you can ask the right questions of the attorney with whom you choose to meet. (Definitely don’t just take our word for it!) A great place to start is by requesting a free copy of our military divorce book – which you can do here. You can also request a copy of our custody book for Virginia moms, or even register to attend our monthly divorce seminar.
The custody book and the divorce seminar aren’t exclusively military specific, but they do touch on military cases – and, in any case, a lot of what happens is similar from case to case, whether the divorce is military or civilian. Still, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get informed so that, when the time comes, you can ask good questions designed to help you choose the right attorney for your specific case.
For more information, or to schedule a consult, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.