Legal assistance offered when facing divorce

GOODFELLOW ARI FORCE BASE, Texas -- The world can seem out of control when your marriage is in trouble, and when you're in the military, you face extra challenges of staying ready for duty while dealing with what's going on in your personal life.

Legal assistance attorneys frequently advise military members and their spouses on divorce, legal separation, child support, child custody, military pension division and benefits under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act.

A legal assistance attorney can offer advice on the divorce process, issues relating to each person's situation, and where to file for divorce; however, they cannot be a representative in court.

You are not required to hire a civilian attorney and there are some guides available to assist you with a "pro se" (do-it-yourself) divorce, particularly if there are no children involved, no alimony issues, and no property issues involved. However, hiring a civilian attorney is recommended because the divorce process can get complicated. Ask a legal assistance attorney on whether you should hire a civilian attorney or if a "pro se" divorce will work for your situation.

There are some special issues to watch for. First, you can't file for divorce just anywhere. A valid and legal divorce can only be granted in yours or your spouse's state of legal residence, or another state with competent jurisdiction over you or your spouse.

The state of legal residence is the place where one of you votes, pays income taxes and qualifies for in-state tuition. It doesn't necessarily mean the same thing as a military "home of record."

Many states allow military members or spouses who are stationed in that state to get a divorce if they meet certain requirements. A legal assistance attorney can advise you on where you may get a divorce.

Second, discuss with your divorce lawyer at the outset, long before the divorce is granted, any alimony, maintenance or spousal support issues.

Third, marital or community property division should be done at or before the divorce. Be sure to request this in the petition for divorce to preserve this matter for the court to decide should you and your spouse not be able to work this out by agreement.

And fourth, be aware that a divorce overseas may not be recognized in the U.S. American courts are required to recognize and honor orders and decrees of sister states, but they don't have to recognize court decrees from other countries. Also, foreign courts cannot divide military pension benefits.

Divorce incurs both financial and emotional strains for all involved. Financial expenses include legal and attorney fees, the costs of dividing property, possibly child support and alimony, and the costs of separate living places.

Emotional stress comes with child custody and care issues, and the adjustment to a new life style for the parents and the children.

To avoid strains, take preventative measures by utilizing marital counseling services offered by the chaplain's office, Airman and Family Readiness Center, and other off-base resources. However, if you find yourself facing a divorce, a legal assistance attorney can advise you on the process in regards to your situation.

FMI: Legal office, (325) 654-3203.