A guide to separation and divorce for military families

Lucy Woodward is a military family law specialist. If you would like to talk to her about your situation then call our free legal helpline on freephone 0333 888 0404.

Lucy Woodward’s legal guide to separation and divorce for military families.

The complexities of divorce and separation for military families

Navigating divorce, separation or child arrangements can be tricky for most, but when one of the parties is serving in the military, the process can be particularly complex.

First, it is often the case that military families live in married quarters and therefore the housing needs of both parties needs to be considered. Secondly, It is vital to understand that military pensions can often be the biggest asset within a marriage and it is important to both preserve the benefit of the pension for the serving member and to understand any entitlement that their spouse may have. Finally, serving members move more often than most civilian families, deploy regularly and ultimately change location and housing status at short notice; all of which can have an impact on child arrangements.

Housing

When parties separate, the first decision to be made is usually where they will reside and how this will be funded. It is common for the families of serving members (with or without children) to move with the serving member, depending on where they are based or posted. This may mean that one or both parties live away from their families and support networks. It may also mean that one or both of the parties rely on the serving member’s position to provide their accommodation. It is understood that Service Family Accommodation (SFA) is provided for couples and families, but that upon separation this status will change. From the outset, it is therefore important to contact the provider of the SFA to inform them that the situation has changed and to provide your legal representative with details of any conditions for example, notice periods, retention of housing and requirements to retain.  

Pensions

In divorce cases involving military pensions, the pension may be the largest asset within the marriage. Military pensions can be substantial and in addition there may be lump sums gained at both 12 and 22 years of service. It is important to consider the entitlement that the non-serving member may have in comparison to the benefits obtained by the serving member. It is often the case that the pensions can be retained in full depending on the length of the marriage or, it may be that the pension is retained in its entirety in exchange for a lump sum (for example) to meet a spouse’s ongoing housing needs. These negotiations should be undertaken following a pension expert’s report, and negotiations through solicitors, to provide a fair outcome for both parties.

Child Arrangements

Many military families with children face difficulties on separation whether that be due to relocation, deployments or housing. The first question many will have is where the children will live. We know that housing will be provided through SFA if a separated serving member has overnight contact for more than 87 nights a year. Often, child arrangements cannot be agreed until both parties housing situation is confirmed and it can be a ‘chicken and egg’ situation. The courts’ paramount consideration in all cases is the welfare of the children and making sure that their needs are met. It is therefore important to highlight the benefits that serving members can provide for the children in respect of stability through SFA, as well as the added benefits of (in most cases) the ability to provide SFA for divorced families (to allow children to remain close to their serving member upon separation) as well as private school supplementation and ‘wrap around’ child care support.

Child Maintenance

It is unfortunate that the child maintenance service does not  sympathise with serving members in respect of deployments. For example, if a serving member was deployed for a period of 6 months, a claim could be made by the other parent for child maintenance payments to be made for this period. It is therefore vitally important to agree child arrangements prior to, during and following deployments to establish the expectations of both parents for the care of the children now and in the future.

Lucy Woodward is a member of our family law team who has first-hand, personal knowledge of military life and specialises in advising on separation and divorce for military families. You can call her on freephone 0333 888 0404 or send an email in confidence to [email protected]

 

Picture of lucy woodward

lucy woodward

Lucy is a solicitor dealing with divorce, separation, child arrangements, injunctions, and pre & post nuptial agreements. She has a particular interest in helping military personnel and their families.
Picture of lucy woodward

lucy woodward

Lucy is a solicitor dealing with divorce, separation, child arrangements, injunctions, and pre & post nuptial agreements. She has a particular interest in helping military personnel and their families.

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