Hiring an Attorney for a Military Divorce
The most critical step you will take in your divorce, besides educating yourself about the USFSPA, will be your selection of an attorney. You would not go to a dentist to set your broken leg in a cast, would you? The same advice applies to hiring an attorney to handle your military divorce. There are many types of lawyers, and you need to find one who specializes not only in domestic or family law, but one who specializes in divorce. Further, that person needs to know about the federal law that applies to the military, and of which you will have already educated yourself.
It is imperative that you retain the services of an attorney who is absolutely knowledgeable and experienced in military divorces -a professional who is intimately familiar with military marriages, benefits, and military retirement and divorce law. Do not assume that your resident military installation JAG knows about divorce--the best the base legal office may do is provide you a fact sheet on the USFSPA. It goes without saying--Do not use the same attorney as your spouse. Hire your own.
Many attorneys charge for a consultation. If you are prepared, you should be able to learn in 10 minutes or so whether the attorney is suitable for your case and one you will be comfortable with. Sometimes calling the attorney's office can help you make a decision. A paralegal in the office might be able to answer your basic questions as well, such as whether the attorney handles military divorces at all.
Preparing yourself for a consultation requires that you gather military specific information. This information includes the following: military pay grade, pay date, status, years of service, estimated military retired pay, special pays and allowances, status of spouse during the marriage (how many unaccompanied tours, TDY's, employment, employer-sponsored pension), point accounting statements (for reserve/guard members).
You need to ask the attorney about his experience as well. Some basic questions will include how many military divorces the attorney has handled, the attorney's knowledge of jurisdiction issues (as they pertain to the military), whether the court uses a formula, whether the state can order SBP, and how the attorney determines computations for reservists. If the attorney asks you what SBP is, then you need to assess whether you even want to retain this person.
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RESIDENCY AND FILING -- Many states permit a military member or spouse to file for divorce in the state where the military member is stationed even if neither is a legal resident of the state. Military members and spouses have three choices when it comes to which state to file for divorce: 1) the state where the filing spouse resides, 2) the state where the military member is stationed, or 3) the state where the military member claims legal residency.
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