In many ways, military divorce isn’t all that different from civilian divorce. In other ways, though, there are a lot of nuances and other confusing tidbits that can make it seem a lot more difficult, and make it more difficult to get answers.
After all, the military isn’t out to help you, if you’re married to a service member. The military really looks out for its own. There are resources available to you as a military spouse, but you should look at them with a critical eye, and, in many cases, get corroborating information from a non-military source.
Can’t I talk to JAG attorneys?
Sure, you can – if your husband hasn’t already talked to them first. If he has, then they’re conflicted out, and they can’t help you.
But, even if you do talk to them, tread carefully. Military JAG attorneys practice military law, not civilian law. And, most of the time, they aren’t even licensed in the state where they are stationed. They don’t try cases in courts in the Commonwealth.
Though they may try to give you advice, I’ve seen both good and bad advice come out of JAG offices. I don’t think it’s a terrible idea to go there as a starting point, if you really want, but I would be fairly cautious about accepting anything they tell you as gospel, especially if the person to whom you speak isn’t licensed in Virginia and hasn’t handled any divorce cases.
Divorce law is complex, and it’s constantly changing. You have to work in divorce law a lot in order to keep up with the near-constant changes to the law, and to be aware of how it typically impacts people in cases. Being licensed to practice military law wouldn’t go very far towards teaching an attorney what he or she needs to know about divorce law in the Commonwealth of Virginia – so keep that in mind.
A JAG attorney can’t take your case, for all the aforementioned reasons. A JAG attorney can’t draft your agreement, either – though I’ve seen them try, with disastrous results.
Though you can get information from a JAG attorney to start, if you want, I definitely suggest you talk to someone who is (1) licensed in Virginia, and (2) currently practicing family law here.
What about Fleet and Family Services, or other military programs?
Sometimes these can be great resources! Again, don’t rely on them for your legal advice (they’re not attorneys!) but if you’re just looking for someone to help point you in the right direction, Fleet and Family Services can be great.
We often advice our clients to pursue counseling, etc., and Fleet and Family can be a great vehicle to help introduce you to free or low cost resources that are available to you as a military spouse. As a civilian, I can tell you that there’s no such resource for non-military women looking for help, so take advantage of every related program you can.
Advocates at Fleet and Family can help get you access to things you didn’t know existed, or for a discounted rate. Our Second Saturday seminar, for example, which is taught by one of our licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorneys, offers free admission (normally $50) to military spouses who have a referral sent to us from their advocate at Fleet and Family services.
What support am I entitled to now that my husband and I are separated?
It’s a good question! A lot of military spouses seem to believe that the military support guidelines are a thing. I mean, I guess, technically, they are a thing; they’re published in the MILPERSMAN, but… frankly, much good may it do you.
The military often doesn’t enforce it’s support guidelines. To enforce it, all you can really do is go to court – and the court won’t apply military guidelines, the court will apply Virginia support guidelines. The court has no authority except that which the state of Virginia has given it, and military support guidelines are just that – military guidelines – not Virginia law. I think the military really treats them as “guidelines” too. It’s a suggestion, but not something that is rigidly (or even loosely) enforced.
Can’t I just call his command if he isn’t paying based off of the military guidelines?
You could… but, honestly, I wouldn’t recommend that. Either (1) his commanding officer won’t make him pay, in which case your call is useless, or (2) he could get in trouble for not paying, which may or may not make him pay, but which could have professional consequences. You may not think you care – but you do. Without his job, he has no ability to pay support. So, it’s really not generally a good idea to bite your nose to spite your face. Getting him in trouble can hurt you even more later on down the line.
It’s almost never a good idea to call his command. It can backfire…big time.
If I can’t call his command, what can I do to get support?
Use the Virginia courts instead.
To get support, you have a couple of options:
1. You can file for child and spousal support in the Virginia Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court in your locality.
2. You can file for divorce in the Virginia Circuit Court in your locality.
3. You can negotiate a separation agreement that includes provisions regarding child and spousal support.
I’m ready to take steps to get support. What should I do first?
Your first step should be to schedule a consultation with a local Virginia divorce and custody attorney. The attorney can look at your income (and his) and give you an idea of what kind of child and spousal support you might expect to receive under the circumstances, and can help you come up with a plan of action for the best way to get the support you need.
Each of the three options I mentioned earlier can be good options, though which option you might choose depends on the facts of your case. It’s always a good idea to talk to someone one on one about the advantages and disadvantages of every possible course of action, so that you can make an educated decision.
There’s no one size fits all in divorce and custody cases. You’re in the right place, and you’re asking the right questions, so that’s the first step!
Give our office a call at 757-425-5200 for more information, or visit our website to request a free copy of our military divorce book, if you haven’t done so already!