How to Get Support for a Military Divorce

If you are married to a military service member or have a child with a person on active duty, you may be entitled to support for yourself or your child (or both) under the military’s dependent support guidelines.  In addition, you can apply for child support or spousal support (and other financial support) through the civilian courts.  The amount of dependent support available through the military depends on each military service’s dependent support guidelines.  Similarly, each state has separate child support guidelines and requirements for alimony or spousal support. Learning where and how to obtain financial support as well as the defenses available against these claims are the topics discussed in this chapter.

Where should I go to get support?

If you are a military spouse (or have a child by a military service member) you can seek support from the either the state court or through the military.  It is important to know where and how to should obtain support. However, determining which state court has jurisdiction to award support can be confusing. 

Jurisdiction is the authority of a state court to review and decide an issue.  Not all state courts have jurisdiction to decide every issue in dispute.  Which court you go to obtain child support or spousal support (and custody or visitation) depends on which state has jurisdiction to decide the issue.  Sometimes, one state may have jurisdiction over the divorce (and the division of marital property) while another state has jurisdiction to decide custody of the children; yet, a third state has jurisdiction to impose a child support order.  It isn’t often that three different states have jurisdiction over the same case, but determining which state has jurisdiction over which issues can be tricky particularly for military members.

For military families, a service member often has a home of record (the state of legal residence where he or she pays – or does not pay—taxes) but actually lives in another state (or outside of the U.S.).  Meanwhile, a different set of criteria may apply to jurisdiction over a civilian spouse.  In defending against a support claim, the court cannot impose an order requiring someone to pay support if it lacks jurisdiction over the person or over the person’s property.  In other words, if the defendant does not live in the state, has no property in the state and does not voluntarily appear before the court, then a state court may not have jurisdiction to impose a support order.