Can You Serve Divorce Papers to a Deployed Military Spouse?

undefinedAre you a military personnel, or married to one, and contemplating divorce? If so, it’s important to understand how military divorces differ from civilian divorces—having a grasp of these nuances can make all the difference, and help to ensure that the process of divorce is as smooth as it can possibly be, and that your rights are being properly represented. We recently asked our firm’s Partner and Lead Litigation Attorney, Will Jones, to sit down with us and discuss the process of serving dissolution papers to a spouse who may be deployed, and thus not easily accessible or able to adhere to typical timetables required for an Oregon dissolution.

According to Jones, the general process of divorce doesn’t change for military couples, but there are certainly caveats to be aware of.

“There are a lot of different hooks that exist when you're dealing with Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), when you're dealing with service member spouses, and when you're dealing with veterans,” says Jones. “The factual underpinnings change a lot. The actual dissolution process through the court, it's still the state court, it's still the Oregon Rules of Civil Procedure. So it still follows that track, but with a few caveats, and the pieces that you're dealing with and possibly dividing are drastically different.”

One of the first steps of divorce is filing with the court, and having your spouse served. Understandably, this process can become complicated if your spouse is stationed out of the country or deployed, and not as easily accessible.

“As we all know, a military service member may be stationed somewhere if they're out on orders. If you’re trying to serve a spouse who is deployed, that will bring in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which basically says, ‘Hey, hold off on all litigation while this person is under orders’,” says Jones. “That protection can extend up to a year past when the service member leaves the service or is discharged, so the timing for serving divorce papers changes a lot. In Oregon, if you serve somebody, they have 30 days to respond, but if they're servicemembers, that's a whole different process.”

When trying to serve a military spouse with divorce papers, the process can become further complicated if you aren’t sure where they’re located at the time, or how to have the papers delivered to them. Luckily, there is a section of the Code of Federal Regulations that specifically deals with serving servicemembers.

“To start, hopefully you know at least where they're stationed—that would be the first step. If you know where they're stationed, you can usually contact their commanding officer (CO) and say, 'Hey, where's this person? How do I get them served?’,” says Jones. “The Code of Federal Regulations is basically there to say, 'Hey, just go ahead and serve the base or the CO, and they'll get it to the person who may actually be out in the field.' So it takes a little bit of finagling to kind of figure that stuff out. DFAS, who runs all this stuff, does a pretty good job of helping you locate servicemembers, because obviously, they need to be located for other reasons as well.”

When asked if the rules of divorce change depending on the status of the military member, such as whether they’re deployed or on active duty, Jones states that these factors can certainly make a difference.

“In regard to the process of an Oregon dissolution, these factors can make a difference when you're talking about service, when you're talking about maybe taking a default judgment, or when you can require them to appear in court,” says Jones. “[You have to remember] that the state court doesn't have the ability to override military orders and to pull them in so that they can be available for divorce proceedings,” says Jones. “If they're deployed, the state court can't say, 'You're undeployed'. So can there be some timing issues? Yes. Structurally, yeah, it could cause delays. But as for the general process of a dissolution, it still tracks the same way.”

If you are military service member or spouse, and you have questions about the divorce process, our firm is here to help. Will Jones is well-versed in how military divorces differ not only in the process of serving papers, but regarding all subjects pertaining to the dissolution process—custody, parenting time, dividing assets and pensions, and so forth. If you would like to hear more from Will on these topics, you can listen to his full interview via our Modern Family Matters podcast, which can be located on our website, as well as here. If you have further questions and would like to sit down to discuss your unique situation with Will, do not hesitate to contact our office at (503) 227-0200 to set up a consultation.