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A guide to military divorce

Military divorce can be a complex and challenging process, often requiring specialised knowledge and experience. If you or your spouse are a member of the UK armed forces, understanding the unique aspects of military divorce is essential to ensure that your rights and interests are protected.

Fundamentally, military divorce involves the same legal issues as any other divorce, However military pensions, child arrangements, and service accommodation issues, can be complex in armed force divorces and can all lead to tension between divorcing couples. Samantha Farndale, Stowe Partner and experienced military divorce lawyer, explains more.

How are military divorces different to civilian divorces?

The process for military divorces is the same as it is for civilian divorces, however there may be different things that you and your lawyer need to think about. For example, military pensions can be complex to deal with, and are likely to require the input of a pensions or divorce expert.

In addition, if you are living in accommodation provided by the military, consideration will need to be given as to how both parties interim and long-term housing needs can be met, as it maybe you are no longer entitled to live in the accommodation provided by the military upon separation.

What happens when you divorce a military member?

When you divorce a member of the armed forces, including the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, the process mirrors that of any other person getting divorced. The ‘no-fault’ divorce process introduced in 2022 applies, and financial matters are dealt with in addition to the divorce process as with any other person getting divorced. However, there are additional things to consider such as housing and pensions, that may differ to civilians.

Who gets the house in a military divorce?

If you live in military-provided housing and separate, the military member must notify their unit of the separation. As a non-military member, you would normally be given 93 days’ notice to vacate the property, but it can be less.

In the event that you are unable to re-house in civilian accommodation straight away, the Local Authority will provide advice and assistance with finding and arranging accommodation. It may be that your spouse will need to support you financially in setting up your new home.

If the house is not a military property, but owned by both or one of the spouses, the property will be dealt with in the same way as any other divorce. There is no default position as to who should keep the house, and we would need to carefully consider each party’s individual housing needs, cross referenced with their respective income and outgoings.

What rights does a military spouse have?

Military spouses have the same rights, and are treated in the same way, as any other spouse on divorce.

Depending on the circumstances, they may need to consider whether they are able to claim benefits or gain employment (if they are not working already) following separation. When dealing with financial matters, the court will take into consideration the individual circumstances of each case when deciding what is a fair entitlement on separation.

Because of the military lifestyle, non-military spouses may face employment barriers and may not have had opportunities to build their own work experience and pension provision, as they may have supported their spouse and/or moved location on a regular basis. This will be taken into account by the court in its overall evaluation.

How do I get a divorce in the military?

As with all divorces there are options, from applying for a divorce online or instruct a family lawyer to make the application on your behalf. Due to the specialist nature of military financial settlements, we strongly advise that you seek legal advice to ensure that a fair outcome is achieved.

What am I entitled to in a military divorce?

The objective when resolving the financial claims made as a result of divorce, is to achieve ‘fairness’. Fairness is informed by the following three principles:

Need: Fairness requires that provision is made for both parties’ housing and financial needs. When assessing these needs, the court should take into account a wide range of factors, including the parties’ ages, earning capacity and current standard of living.

Compensation: Once needs are met, the court should consider whether one party’s financial position is stronger as a result of how the parties divided their responsibilities during the marriage. For example, one spouse may have given up a potentially lucrative career to become primary carer for the children of the family, leaving the other spouse free to pursue their military career. In such a case ‘fairness’ may require the court to award an element of compensation to the financially ‘weaker’ party.

Sharing: Marriage is a partnership and ‘fairness’ requires that each partner should be entitled to an equal share of the assets of the partnership unless there is good reason to the contrary. One such reason might be the distinction between matrimonial property, assets gained or inherited during the marriage, and non-matrimonial property, assets gained or inherited prior to the marriage or after divorce.

Each type of matrimonial property or assets has it’s own unique considerations.

Capital

The starting point is to look at the effect of achieving an equal division of the matrimonial capital assets. However, this is a guide rather than a rule. First it must be established whether an equal split of assets is fair and able to meet both parties’ needs.

It’s not uncommon for one party to receive more than half of the capital assets because their needs cannot be met with 50%. This may be because they have other obligations arising from the relationship such as being the main carer for the children, or because they have a lower income, or earning capacity, than the other party.

Income and maintenance

As a result of the divorce, a non-military member may also be entitled to child and or spousal maintenance.

Child maintenance is calculated by the Child Maintenance Service.

Spousal maintenance is not guaranteed and very much depends on the unique circumstances of the case. The court is under a duty to consider whether a clean break can be achieved, meaning that all financial claims arising out of the marriage are dismissed, with no ongoing financial payments made by either party (save in respect of child maintenance where relevant. Often this “dismissal” of financial claims will only come once the assets have been divided.

The person receiving the payment must demonstrate that they have an income need that they are unable to meet with their own income from all sources, and that the person making the payment can afford to pay them that amount.

Any spousal maintenance is variable for the duration of its term, meaning that the court can vary the level of maintenance paid upwards or downwards. If there is an ongoing payment of maintenance, then there is no complete clean break until those payments cease.

Whether an immediate clean break can be achieved will depend upon the level of your income from all sources and your expenditure, cross referenced with your spouse’s income and expenditure.

How are military pensions dealt with during divorce?

When dealing with military pensions, it is imperative that the parties get specialist legal and financial advice. Many military pension schemes that have complex features to them. Using the value of these schemes alone when negotiating your financial settlement can result in unexpected and unfair financial outcomes.

Working with a family law firm that are experienced in military divorce can help ensure that you receive the support and guidance you need throughout the divorce process. With the right legal representation, you can protect your rights and interests and navigate the challenges of military divorce with confidence.

Useful links

How to get divorced

How long does a divorce take in the UK?

How to respond to a divorce petition

Get in touch

For more information about military or armed force divorces please do get in touch with our Client Care Team using the details below or make an online enquiry

Samantha is a Senior Associate at Stowe Family Law and the head of our Rickmansworth office.

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As the UK's largest family law firm we understand that every case is personal.

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