How Do I Choose a Family Lawyer for a Military Family?

While, in general, family law applies to families in all sorts of circumstances, there’s one family subset that needs to be approached differently: Military families. Things like divorce and child custody work already cause considerable stress, but military families have unique aspects to their cases that complicate things further.

Among the circumstances that affect military family lawyers differently are frequent deployments and frequent changes of address as the family moves from base to base. There are considerations around finances as well because retirement benefits and tax implications are different for servicemembers than for civilians. When searching for a family lawyer to handle a military family legal member, here are some things that an attorney should be aware of and able to help with.

What Is the Blended Retirement System?

In 2018, a new military retirement system called the Blended Retirement System (BRS) was implemented. Military members who were active at the end of 2017 were grandfathered into the retirement plan they were already in. Anyone who joined the military from 2018 forward entered the BRS. Here’s what the BRS offers:

Pension

Retirement pay is 2% times the number of years the military member served before retiring. That means that if someone retires at 25 years, the pension is calculated to be 50% of the final base pay. They’ll have a choice of receiving the funds as a pension or as a lump sum of up to 50% of their retirement pay, with the rest paid out as a monthly sum until they’re eligible for Social Security.

Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)

This is similar to an employer-matched retirement program many civilians have at their jobs. Servicemembers start out contributing 3% of their income to their retirement fund, although they have the option to increase or decrease or even stop at any time. After 60 days of service, the military pays 1% of the base pay. After the member has served two years, the military’s match rises to 4% of individual contributions, and the servicemember is fully vested at that point. Once 26 years of service have passed, the military stops the contributions.

Continuation Pay

This is a technique for retaining servicemembers over time. It’s an additional type of payment offered during the period of 8-12 years of completed service. How much the servicemember will earn is individually determined by each area of the military.

These are things a family lawyer handing legal services to military families should understand since they have long-term implications that are separate from civilian families. Divorce courts will look closely at the arrangements made for the servicemember’s income in terms of alimony, child support, or any other financial arrangement that’s part of the divorce.

What Is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a law that provides protections, both legal and financial, to military members. It applies to active service members in the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, active duty commissioned officers of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and active duty National Guard members. Among the protections provided are guaranteed lower interest rates for home, auto, or student loans and credit cards. The SCRA also has clauses around residential leases, court proceedings, and evictions.

Where this comes into play for active service members in family law is that the SCRA says that the military member can’t be held responsible for violating contracts because military life often involves frequent changes of residence, not to mention deployments. If a service member is out of the country on deployment and his or her spouse tries to set up court proceedings without them, the SCRA can be used to halt those proceedings until the service member is available to participate.

What Is a Family Care Plan?

Military members are required to develop a family care plan and keep it updated. Each branch of the military has specifications. But in general, a family care plan is something to help a family whose military member is separated from the family through deployment or training. It’s designed to provide family members with the information they might need in their absence.

That includes things like locations of important documents (wills, insurance papers, etc.), a list of close contacts (family, friends, doctors, and relevant military contacts), medical information, how to use military treatment facilities and installation services, and details for the family’s daily life and routine.

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