The demands of a military lifestyle can create unique habits and stressors for families of service members. Thankfully, many benefits are offered by the military in return for your commitment. One benefit available to both service members and spousal dependents includes access to free on-post legal assistance through the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate (SJA).
Because of the way military life affects families, matters of family law are often the most sought after by those in need of legal assistance. The dissolution of a household by divorce makes up a significant portion of family law practice in both military and private sectors. As of 2015, 3.1 percent of military couples sought a divorce, the lowest rate in 10 years.
After nearly a decade of heightened U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the withdrawal of troops from overseas has brought stability to the military family once again. However, if you as a service member or military spouse find yourself in the unfortunate situation of divorce, it is important to understand potential conflicts of interest that may require you to seek the help of a civilian attorney.
First come, first served
Sixty percent of divorces are filed by an individual spouse, meaning the other spouse in three out of five divorce cases potentially enters the situation underprepared. This statistic is important to a person seeking guidance from on-post family law services because many SJA offices can only help one spousal party in a divorce or other adversarial matters.
The first spouse to come forward is the one who is entitled to assistance. This rule is put in place by SJA commanders to prevent attorneys in the same office who are assisting opposing spousal parties from negotiating quid-pro-quo-like deals without the consent of the spouses.
You have options
If you find yourself unable to seek military assistance because of the 'first come, first served' rule of an SJA office, you are likely concerned about the cost of seeing a civilian attorney.
Immediate, short-term financial aid to see a civilian attorney may be available through an on-post Family Readiness Group or Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program. After that, covering the long-term costs of civilian legal assistance can be negotiated as part of the divorce settlement.
Are you still uncertain?
Life in the military brings uncertainty for many service members and their families. Divorce brings on a new set of unknown circumstances. However, you can be confident that you will receive the necessary legal assistance through the divorce process as military couple even if it is through a civilian attorney.