Indiana, having a significant number of military installments, has its fair share of military divorces over the course of any given year. In fact, many attorneys have tried divorce cases over the phone from troops who may not even be able to disclose their location to the trial court. That said, there are protections for military members under the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Act. This blog surveys key information you need to know if you are a deployed military member who is stationed abroad and wants a divorce or are served with divorce paperwork.
As a threshold matter, particularly with adaptations made by courts during the COVID-19 pandemic and developments in technology itself, most seasoned divorce attorneys have handled divorce cases where they never met their clients (including those in the military) and have the final hearing over the telephone or by video-conferencing, such as Zoom. This is not unique to the deployed members of the Armed Forces nor those stationed abroad. Instead, technology is allowing trials to be prepared (discovery sent and received), for military members to meet their attorneys and prepare for trial by electronic means, and trials to be conducted without any party actually meeting any other party, including going into the physical courtroom. Much of this (particularly with the court by video conferencing) has rendered certain protections to members of the military unnecessary.
That said, the military still has unique aspects of its personnel that may not allow a divorce trial to proceed.1 In essence, a deployed troop on a secretive assignment or member of the special forces may not be able to be contacted. In this case, with skilled legal counsel, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Act authorizes your counsel to stay (stop or freeze) the proceedings during your absence if it makes the right claims and showings. Specifically, the motion must demonstrate the defendant’s inability to conduct his defense in his divorce if materially affected by reason of his military service.2 The reason for this is because you have the right to counsel and substantive and procedural due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution that cannot be met if you cannot actively participate in helping your lawyer prepare the case and try the same. Thus, with skilled counsel, it may be possible in the right cases to stay your divorce proceedings so your absence does not prejudice your case.
The take-away from this blog is members of the Armed Services are recognized as having unique and special challenges virtually no other litigant in the United States has. With skilled counsel who understands the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Act, your rights may be properly protected and litigated consistently with your military obligations. Thus, this should be an open and upfront question you have with any divorce counsel you consider. Is he/she familiar with military divorce? Being deployed or stationed abroad is not harmful to your divorce case if properly handled (and stayed if necessary) and litigated. This blog is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle military divorces throughout Indiana. It is written for general educational purposes. The blog is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- This blog does not address the fine points of a military divorce, such as retirement benefits and their division and the like.
- Boone v. Lightner, 63 S.Ct. 1223 (1943).