Military Divorces

“You don’t have to argue your divorce through two attorneys. And you don’t have to go to court. Mediation gets you through it with less cost, less time, and less stress.”

Military Divorces: Simpler and more peaceful through mediation

Listed below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding Military Divorces (click on the question to expand).

What is a "military divorce?"

A military divorce is simply a divorce in which the husband and/or wife is serving in the military. From a legal point of view, there is nothing specifically called a “military divorce.”

Why should I consider mediation?

  • It costs a lot less. You’ll be working with one mediator instead of two attorneys for deciding the terms of your divorce.
  • It is faster. Your time is used efficiently. In mediation, the two of you work together instead of making proposals separately through your attorneys.
  • There is less stress. Misunderstandings are eliminated immediately. Game-playing is eliminated. Trust builds.
  • It is private. The courts do not need to be involved.

What's the cost?

Do you find ads for attorneys offering divorces for $800? Usually, that fee covers only the write-up of your agreement and filing. If all of the terms of your divorce have already been laid out, support has already been determined, there’s nothing to be negotiated, there are no 401(k) or pension plans, then yes, you can get divorced for $800. If you are not mediating, if you are using attorneys to negotiate, you can expect the real cost to be more than $5000 – each.

There is a lot of work to be done in order to identify everything that needs to be decided, and then to negotiate those decisions. And after that, there is still the final document that needs to be written up.

In my mediations, your time is used very efficiently. You are negotiating with the help of one mediator, working with the two of you – together, in the same room, talking with each other – instead of being separated and negotiating through the attorneys or making appearances in court. (In certain cases I will meet with you separately: domestic violence, bullying, …)

So, how many hours will it take? It depends on whether you are someone who can make decisions easily, whether you have patience in listening to your spouse’s proposals, whether children are involved, whether you prepare for each meeting, whether the two of you can discuss issues at home without getting into arguments.

You should expect the cost of working with one mediator to be less than half the cost of negotiating through two attorneys.  The majority of my clients who have children spend between $1500 and $3000 on mediation.

So, what is mediation?

Here’s what it is not: It is not arguing all of the terms of your divorce through two attorneys representing each of you individually.

Here’s what it is: Mediation is a process in which a neutral party (the mediator) works with the two of you, together, in the same room, to help you decide what will work best for all involved.

Divorce shouldn’t be a strictly legalistic process, but rather one of negotiation with compassion.

As I guide you through the process of negotiating the terms of your divorce, I help ensure that each of you feel empowered to make informed decisions: dividing assets & debts, parenting responsibilities, child support, spousal support. In doing so, I recognize the interplay of the legal, financial, and emotional aspects of divorce. So I strive to minimize your stress in making those tough decisions, in an informal yet structured environment allowing for creative decisions.

In general, it is an attorney’s obligation to try to “win” for his/her client. But divorce is not about winning or losing. It should be about moving forward with your individual lives as best you can.

How is a military divorce different from a civilian divorce?

In one sense, the military divorce is a civilian divorce. Divorces are granted by the State of North Carolina in District Court. It is not done through a military court. The laws of NC govern the process.

An important difference is in how military benefits are managed. The managing of retirement funds can be complicated, and it is important to understand how NC civil rules mesh with military rules. Also, the military extends many benefits to the ex-spouse that continue after divorce. Understanding these will influence the negotiating of the terms of your divorce. Your mediator needs to explain all of these issues so that they are clearly understood.

And of course there are emotional issues to be recognized that differ enormously from those of the civilian population. Privacy is important. Completing the process efficiently is important. Timeliness is important. And understanding the stresses of military duty is essential.

Another important difference: In the (NC) civilian world, having sex with someone after the date of separation is not considered adultery.  However, in the military world, it is, and it is taken seriously.

How does mediation work?

I handle my mediation sessions differently than how attorneys generally do it. Attorneys usually have the parties in two rooms, and the attorney goes back and forth with proposals and counter-proposals.

My approach to mediation is more conversational. I work with the two of you together, in the same room. I want you to hear one another, see one another. I ask questions to the two of you. “Tell me your thoughts about the house.” “How will that fit into your schedules?” “Can your budgets support this approach?” The two of you will work together – not against one another – to come up with all of the terms of your divorce.

All of your decisions will fall into four categories: (1) sharing your assets and debts, (2) parenting arrangements for your kids, (3) sharing the financial responsibilities for your kids, (4) helping one another with spousal support.

I will guide you through a process to help you identify what needs to be decided, generate possible alternative solutions, and guide your conversation in moving towards your agreements. I will teach you the concepts behind the areas to be decided. By talking with each other, the two of you will build more trust and will come up with solutions that will last.

We don’t look back. We move forward.

The output of the mediation is a document that I write called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This details all of your decisions. After you have the final draft of the MOU, you have just one more step: you need to convert my MOU into your Separation Agreement. You may do the conversion yourself, but I encourage you to use your attorneys to write your Separation Agreement based on my MOU.

Voluntary mediation vs. mandatory mediation

Adults are allowed to make decisions on their own. You don’t have to use attorneys. You don’t have to use a judge. You can choose to mediate voluntarily, at any stage in your divorce. You have the right to call a mediator and set up an appointment.

If you were to go to court over the distribution of assets or custody, the judge would order you to go to mediation. At that point, you can select your mediator, or you can ask your attorney to select your mediator, or you can have the court assign a mediator to your case. Many attorneys will tell you that mediation is required. But, in fact, mediation is required only if your case is filed with the court and you appear before a judge.

However, you don’t have to wait for your attorney or a judge to tell you to mediate. You can start the process on your own, and either with or without attorneys.

How do we use attorneys in voluntary mediation?

It is your choice whether you want to use attorneys or not. Attorneys are not required in order to get divorced, and they are not required if you are mediating. The choice is yours.

However, I do encourage my clients to have attorneys, even if you are mediating. But their roles are limited. In most cases, my clients who choose mediation voluntarily do not have their attorneys attend the mediation sessions.

So, where do the attorneys fit in? If you want legal advice, if you want to confirm something that I have told you, if you want to hear a biased opinion, then your attorney is just a phone call away. I especially encourage my clients to use their attorneys for writing the final draft of your Separation Agreement (the terms of the divorce). I will produce for you a document that details all of your agreements. You, or your attorneys, will need to convert my document into your final Separation Agreement. Some of my clients choose to not use attorneys at all, and they do all of the paper work themselves. While I discourage this, you have that right. (Many attorneys charge around $800 to wriet your Separation Agreement based on my Memorandum of Understanding.)

[Note: A “Separation Agreement” is not about being “legally separated.” Rather, it is the document that spells out the distribution of assets, custody, child suport, and spousal support. Its name is somewhat misleading.]

Ft. Bragg Legal Assistance Office

Divorce and Separation briefings are held every Thursday at 0900 and 1300. After the briefing, individuals still needing additional information will be seen on a one-on-one basis with an attorney in the order they arrived to the briefing (i.e. first-come, first-served basis). You must attend one of these briefings before you can use other services of the Legal Assistance Office. If your spouse wants to attend one of these briefings, it must be at a different time from the one you attend (that is, the two of you may not attend a briefing together).

Your next step...

If you would like to know more about the divorce process, or about mediation, or about me – or if you are ready to start – please email me.

Art Lieberman

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