Military Divorce in Florida

Military Divorce in Florida

Part 1: Jurisdiction

military divorce in florida - image shows military boarding a planeMilitary divorce in Florida – a divorce in Florida can be complicated but if you are a member of a branch of the military the rules can be a bit different making the process even more complicated.

There are many issues unique to members of the military that don’t apply to non-members.  Not knowing or understanding these differences can be a costly mistake.

The first hurdle is jurisdiction.  Without proper jurisdiction your case will be dead in the water.  What do our mean by jurisdiction?

There are two types of jurisdiction. “Personal,” which means the court has the ability to hear a case involving a particular individual, and “subject matter,” which means the type of case being brought is one the court is allowed to hear.  Since it is clear that Florida courts have “subject matter” jurisdictions to hear family law or divorce cases then the question moves to “personal” jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction for Military Divorce in Florida

The first unique hurdle members of the military and their spouses encounter when wanting to file for divorce is deciding where to file. Knowing where to file for civilians is a no brainer.  You file where you live.

In Florida one party has to have been a resident of Florida for 6 months prior to filing.  It does not matter which party. If your spouse has established residency in Florida for 6 months but you have not, the divorce can still be filed there.  The same applies if you have established residency in Florida.

In the military community it is common for a couple to be from one state, married in a second state, living in a third state and own property in a fourth state. It can be a jurisdictional nightmare.

Further complicating matters, the couple may have recently been moved by the military to the state where they live and they may not have been there long enough to establish residency. So how does a military couple decide where to file their divorce and does it matter which state they choose?

Military personnel may have established their state of residency in one state but be temporarily assigned or deployed to another state or country.  If this is a temporary assignment then they do not lose the original state as their residence.  In that case jurisdiction would be proper in their original or “home” state.

For example, John, is in the military and has lived in Florida all his life.  He owns a home there, votes there, has a Florida DL and pays taxes there.  John, gets assigned to a base in Georgia for a time.  Since this is a temporary assignment, Florida will remain his state of residence for filing purposes.

If John tries to file in Georgia to make his wife, who is also a Florida resident, litigate in Georgia the courts will not allow it because they do not have “personal jurisdiction” over his wife.

John will be looking at military divorce in Florida.

Military Divorce in Florida – Does It Matter Where I Got Married?

It is important for military couples to understand that the place where they got married has nothing to do with where they can get divorced. Also, both spouses do not have to be able to establish residency in the state in order to file for divorce there. If the other spouse does not object to the jurisdiction then the divorce can proceed in that state.

It is also possible for the spouse at home to file for divorce while the other spouse is deployed,  logistically it will be very difficult to get the papers served and there are legal protections for the deployed spouse that will allow for continuances and postponements until the service member is home.

Many states provide exceptions for residency requirements for active duty service personnel who prefer to file in the state he/she is currently stationed. However, members of our military and their spouses are not limited to filing only in the state in which they are based. You can also file where you have permanent residence, where you own property, or where you last lived as Husband and Wife.

Usually the state in which you have the most ties to the best place to file but you may want to look up the different divorce laws in each state and make the determination according to the laws that best accommodate your needs and desires.

Military Protection From Florida Divorce Proceedings

There are laws set up to protect active duty military members against being held in “default” from failing to respond to a divorce action. These laws were enacted to protect active military from being divorced without knowing it.

Under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, 50 UCS section 521:

In the discretion of the local Florida court, the divorce proceeding may be postponed for the entire time the active service member is on duty and for up to 60 days thereafter (This is typically the case when the active member is serving in a war). Also, this right to have the divorce proceedings postponed can be waived by any active duty member should he or she wish to get the divorce.

Military Divorce in Florida – Serving an Active Military Spouse

The active duty spouse must be personally served with a summons and a copy of the divorce action in order for a Florida court to have jurisdiction over the active military member. In an uncontested case, the active duty spouse may not have to be served as long as he or she signs and files a waiver affidavit acknowledging the divorce action. Signing a waiver in an uncontested divorce tells the court that you are accepting that the court has “personal” jurisdiction over you and that you are not objecting to the court hearing and finalizing your case.