If you’re a California spouse who also happens to be a member of the U.S. armed forces, it’s logical to assume that you’re no stranger to facing unexpected changes in life. Especially if you’re also a parent, you’re no doubt experienced at having to change plans at the last minute or finding ways to balance family life with military duties. You might also be one of many military servicemembers whose marriage didn’t hold up well to the pressure, so that now, you’re headed for a divorce.

You might be serving a deployment when you make your final decision to file for divorce. You understand that your decision is going to disrupt your family life, particularly for your kids, and you want to make the transition as painless as possible. Filing the petition is the first step in the process, which may raise a question in mind as to where (as in, which state?) you should file your paperwork.

It’s not uncommon to live in numerous states within several years

As a military family, you may have already moved from state to state during your years of service. Perhaps you and your spouse were born and raised in the same state but got married in another because you were stationed there at the time. The state you live in now might be different than the state you were married in. And, if you’re serving a deployment, you might be clear across the world from the state your spouse and children are in at this time.

To file for a divorce, you must do so in the state that has jurisdiction over the case. In the military, one may establish jurisdiction in several ways. You might decide to file a petition in the state where you hold legal residence. You may also be able to file for divorce in the state where you are currently stationed. Even if you’re overseas right now, your divorce will operate under U.S. laws.

Learn more about the Service Members Civil Relief Act (SMCRA)

The SMCRA helps protect your rights within the civil justice system while you’re serving a deployment or have returned home from deployment within the past 90 days. The SMCRA is relevant to certain issues that may arise in a divorce. For instance, your ex cannot initiate child custody proceedings against you while you’re serving active duty overseas.

If you’ve already finalized a divorce and have a child custody order in place, the SMCRA also protects you against requests for modification, meaning that your co-parent cannot ask the court to change the terms of the order when you are unable to be present in person for proceedings.

State law may affect your military benefits and pension in a divorce

If you’re filing for a divorce in California while serving in the military, you’ll want to seek clarification regarding property division proceedings with regard to your military pension and benefits. This state operates under community property guidelines in a divorce, which means the court may equally split the assets you’ve acquired during marriage between you and your ex, including military retirement benefits.
It’s always best to learn as much as you can about state laws and guidelines before filing for a divorce. It is also a good idea to know where to seek outside support if a problem arises, especially while you are serving an active duty overseas.