The divorce process can be confusing and complicated, and it requires couples to follow specific court rules and procedures. In addition, it usually requires a lot of time and effort to complete the divorce successfully. While the divorce process is usually challenging in general, military divorces can be even more complicated. There are numerous military divorce rules and they are applied differently in each state.
Military divorces in Florida usually include issues including the division of retirement pay, family benefits, child custody, and financial support. Deciding these things is not always straightforward, especially because couples need to know the federal regulations that apply to military cases. That said, the following military divorce guide will provide you with important information about the process for military divorce in Florida.
Protection from military divorce proceedings in Florida
Divorce for military members is partly regulated by federal laws, such as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), and partly by Florida Statute. The SCRA was created to protect military members from civil procedure and default judgments when they can’t attend a court hearing or respond to a case because they are away on active duty. Under this act, a service member can postpone a divorce while deployed.
Different law is applied to different aspects of the divorce proceedings. Specifically, while federal law governs the division of military pensions, state law is used to determine alimony and issues regarding child custody and child support.
In order to file for divorce in Florida, the couple must meet the state’s residency requirements. If a couple wants to file for divorce in Florida, at least one spouse must have lived in Florida for six months. The court will only issue a divorce decree if the residency requirement has been met.
Florida military divorce laws consider service members and their spouses living within the state’s borders as residents, and allow them to initiate any action, including but not limited to divorce.
Serving an active duty spouse
Filing for divorce in the military may be different from filing a civilian divorce case when it comes to serving documents on the active duty spouse.
Florida rules require that the divorce papers be served on a military member by a person officially authorized by law or appointed by the court. In most instances, when a service member is not deployed overseas, it is relatively easy to achieve service.
For uncontested cases, personal service is not required if the service member agrees to sign and file an affidavit waiving personal service.
Grounds for a military divorce in Florida
Just like in a civilian divorce case, in any marriage dissolution proceeding involving military members, a final judgment may be granted if there is a reason for divorce. Florida has two grounds for ending a married relationship: irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and incurable mental illness of one spouse. Both are considered no-fault grounds.
Suppose one of the parties objects that the marriage is broken or the spouses have minor children. In that case, a court may refer one or both spouses to consultation with a qualified specialist or extend the proceedings to let the couple reconcile. The judgment upon the ground of mental incapacity can only be granted if the incapacitated spouse has been in such a state of health for three preceding years.
The division of property in Florida is carried out according to the principle of equitability. It means that all assets and liabilities accrued during the marriage are divided fairly between the spouses according to their marriage contribution. When a judge believes that an equitable distribution is unfair, they consider other factors, including marriage duration, spouses’ economic circumstances, and property dissipation.
Each party’s separate property usually goes back to its owner unless it was commingled in married life. It includes everything owned by a spouse before the wedding or after it as an inheritance or personal gift from a third party. Profit from such property also belongs to an individual who owns it.
In any proceeding for divorce in the army, navy, or other military branches, all retirement benefits accrued during the marriage that lasted at least ten years are also marital property and must be divided equitably. This division is regulated by the Uniformed Service Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA).
Child custody and support
Divorce with children in the military family includes child custody and support matters. Florida courts always prioritize the child’s best interests when determining custody and visitation. That said, a judge may not consider the past or future deployment of a parent, discriminating against their parental rights. However, a civilian spouse divorcing a soldier who is frequently deployed has a higher chance of becoming a child’s prime caretaker.
One or both of the parents are also responsible for the financial support of a minor child. One parent may be ordered to pay a certain amount of money to the other who has custody. Child support is calculated according to the state guidelines schedule based on the parents’ combined net income and number of children. For military members, their share cannot exceed 60% of their allowances and pay.
In Florida, the court may grant alimony to one party if there is a need for it. If the economic resources of the spouse asking for financial aid are sufficient to maintain a decent life level, a judge will not grant the support request. The length of the marriage, the value of the separate property, and the parties’ ability to meet their needs independently also influence alimony decisions.
Spousal support in a military marriage dissolution is limited. It can be of several types — durational, permanent, bridge-the-gap, or rehabilitative. In a divorce with a military member, the amount of alimony that the other spouse can receive is no more than 60% of a service member’s allowances and pay.
The duration of spousal support depends on its type. For example, bridge-the-gap alimony cannot exceed two years. The rehabilitative one is awarded for a fixed period during which a dependent party acquires the necessary employment skills. Durational alimony does not exceed the marriage’s length, and the permanent one is awarded for life. The payments usually terminate when one of the parties dies or a dependent spouse remarries.
Filing procedure for military members
Filing a lawsuit in Florida consists of several stages. Essentially, the process includes two main steps — gathering the documents and delivering them to the court. All necessary forms can be obtained either from an attorney or online. The paper that launches the process is a Petition for Marriage Dissolution. After you have submitted it to the county clerk’s office and paid a fee, a clerk issues a summons, which you need to serve on your spouse.
You cannot serve the papers by yourself; instead, hire a process server. They must complete the proof of service form after serving your spouse and file it with the court. If your spouse does not file a response or a counterclaim in 20 days, they will not have a say during the case proceedings.
Rights and benefits of a military spouse in a divorce
Depending on the marriage duration and active service period, a military member’s spouse may have some rights and benefits after a divorce. They are provided and regulated by the USFSPA in conjunction with state laws. For example, a former military spouse in Florida has the right to receive a share of retirement pay after divorce if the marriage lasted for at least ten years.
There are two major categories of benefits for service members’ former spouses:
- Lifetime healthcare coverage and an established share of retirement benefits. This category covers former spouses married for 20 years overlapping with a 20-year creditable service (20/20/20 rule). Under this rule, military spouse entitlements also include commissary and exchange privileges and access to military pharmacies and hospitals.
- Transitional healthcare coverage for a finite period until a former spouse enrolls in another insurance plan. This category includes those former spouses whose 20-year marriage overlapped with only 15-19 years of at least a 20-year creditable service (20/20/15 rule).
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Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to get a military divorce in Florida?
Florida has a mandatory waiting period of 20 days between filing a petition and the court hearing. During this period, a couple can change their decision and stay married. The average uncontested divorce takes 3-4 months, while contested cases extend to several years, depending on the complexity of issues.
How much does a military divorce in Florida cost?
If a married couple agrees on all terms and decides to handle their case without a lawyer, they will have to pay at least $400 for filing a petition for marriage dissolution. Spouses in conflict will also pay for child custody and alimony orders ($300 each). Cases led by an attorney may cost between $2,000 and $20,000.
Where to file a military divorce case in Florida?
If one of the spouses is a legal resident of Florida, the case may be filed in a county’s circuit court where he or she permanently lives. The same goes for a military member stationed in a specific county. If both spouses are residents or stationed in different areas, they can choose either of the counties to initiate their case.
What makes military divorce in Florida different?
Military rules for the marriage dissolution process are different from civilian cases because they are governed by the SCRA (a set of protections for the Armed Forces). Military members have the right to postpone any proceedings while they are on active duty. The other act — USFSPA — protects their spouses and regulates the division of retirement benefits.