Is a Military Divorce Different from Others in North Carolina?

North Carolina is home to eight military bases. All branches, with the exception of the Navy, have a base in the state. With about 100,000 active-duty military personnel and 725,000 veterans, North Carolina has the fifth-largest military presence in the U.S.

Like other Americans, members of the armed forces get married and have children. They also get divorced. According to the Pentagon, the divorce rate among the military is about equal to the rate among civilians.

While many aspects of a military and a civilian divorce are similar, there are some distinct differences and concerns in a military divorce. If you or your spouse is a military member, it’s important to work with a lawyer familiar with handling complex issues inherent in military divorce.

Some Aspects of Military and Civilian Divorces Are the Same

All divorces involve the distribution of marital assets and custody of minor children. Both civilian and military divorce complaints are filed in the same courts.

Other similarities between military and civilian divorce in North Carolina are as follows:

  • Residency. One spouse must have lived in North Carolina for at least six months. One spouse stationed and living on a military base satisfies the residency requirement.
  • Grounds. North Carolina is a no-fault state, so there is no need to prove either spouse is at fault. But you must be separated for one full year. While there is no requirement to file for legal separation, you do have to prove that you have lived apart without acting as a married couple for at least one year. The other grounds recognized in the Tar Heel State is incurable insanity of one spouse and living separate and apart for three consecutive years.

All divorces require that the filing party “serve” divorce papers to the other spouse. This step in the process is where differences become apparent in a military divorce.

Certain Protections Provided in a Military Divorce

If one spouse is on active duty, particularly in a hostile area, serving divorce papers can be difficult. The federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) won’t allow a default judgment during the absence of a spouse. Spouses generally get 30 days in a civilian divorce to respond to a divorce complaint in North Carolina. A deployed military member can get up to 90 days to respond to the complaint. That timeframe can be extended longer if necessary.

Other distinctions in a military divorce are as follows:

  • Child Custody. The best interests of a minor child are at the heart of any North Carolina child custody case, including those that involve one or two military parents. Custody and visitation agreements must account for potential deployments and base assignments. These plans might designate where a child stays when the custodial parent is deployed or how a noncustodial parent can get extra visitation time when they return from overseas.
  • Equitable Distribution. North Carolina follows equitable distribution in determining how assets and debts are divided between spouses. This is true in military divorces but with one caveat. The federal Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) outlines how retirement pay is divided in a divorce. The act also affords certain former spouses health care at military facilities and access to military exchanges and commissaries.
  • Military Judicial System. Members of the military are subject to additional penalties. Infidelity, child abuse, and domestic violence are crimes under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Nonpayment of child support can also lead to a court-martial.

Experienced Legal Counsel for Military Divorces

If you or your spouse is a member of the military, then it’s in your best interests to seek out an attorney with specific experience in military divorce. While civilian divorce shares many similarities, military divorce has its own federal and state rules and regulations. You need an attorney who can help you navigate each step and potential obstacles.

Our attorneys at Jetton & Meredith, PLLC have the experience, knowledge, and compassion to effectively guide you through your divorce.

Learn more about how our divorce and family law experience can impact your case. Schedule a free initial consultation by calling (704) 931-5535 or submitting our online form.