Our law firm, Phillips Law, PLLC, has many clients who are either in the military or who are spouses to military members. Since 911, the military has been operating at a very high OPTEMPO. This means almost all of our military clients will experience a deployment to Southeast Asia at some point in their careers. This also means that many of our clients who have deployed repeatedly will go through at least one divorce.
There is a myth among many military lawyers and military members that soldiers cannot get divorced while they are deployed. In Tennessee this is not true. We frequently get our clients divorced when one of the parties is deployed.
In order to get the divorce while deployed, a couple of things must happen. One, the divorce will have to be uncontested. This means that the two sides will have to agree on a Marital Dissolution Agreement that splits all of the marital property. Two, if they have kids, they will have to have a parenting plan completed, with the appropriate child support under the Tennessee Child Support Guidelines. If the two parties agree to all of this, a civilian lawyer can file the paperwork as an irreconcilable divorce and have the couple divorced in about 90 days.
Although some Tennessee Counties require testimony for an uncontested divorce, where the parties come in and testify that they will be unable to reconcile, this testimony can normally be accomplished by the servicemember through the use of interrogatories. Interrogatories are a series of sworn written question and answers that are presented to the court. The judge has the ability to accept this interrogatories instead of using live testimony.
The one issue that can develop is that getting the paperwork back and forth to the deployed soldier can add additional time to the entire process. With the use of email, this can keep things going at a quick clip. Generally, the mail from Iraq takes seven to ten days to get here if our clients need to mail us sworn originals.
Lawyers and servicemembers do need to be careful about the timing of filing for divorce. The Servicemember is protected from many aspects of divorce under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The SCRA protects soldiers from final judgement while they are deployed, although many temporary hearings are authorized despite their deployment. This is why the soldier must be careful not to “make an appearance” before the court. This can be done by filing the original complaint for divorce or by filing a response or counter-complaint. Once the soldier is in front of the judge, he may have to pay child support or spousal support despite being deployed.
For contested divorces, where there must be a trial, much of the work of divorce, the discovery aspects can be completed while the soldier is in Iraq. Many of my special forces clients go and come back throughout the pendency of the divorce. But, for soldiers who are not able to participate in a contested divorce, they will probably be forced to sit and wait for redeployment.