Military Divorce in Washington

Divorce is challenging for any couple, but when one or both spouses are military servicemembers, there are often added complexities. 

“Military divorce” is not a legal term. A divorce is only considered a “military divorce” when one or both spouses are military servicemembers. Although divorce laws are usually regulated by the state, when a divorce involves military spouses, other federal laws come into play that can affect jurisdiction, the timeline of the divorce, and other matters.

Grounds for military divorce in Washington

Grounds for divorce refers to the legally accepted reason a couple can seek a divorce. Washington is considered a no-fault divorce state. As such, the only legal reason you must give for divorce is the “irretrievable breakdown” of your marriage. This is also true for military divorce in Washington. 

No specific proof of wrongdoing or fault is necessary to end a civilian or military marriage in Washington. One party must only state that the marriage is irretrievably broken. 

Residency requirements for a military divorce in Washington

Servicemembers or their spouses can file for divorce in Washington in the following situations:

  • One or both spouses reside in the state at the time of filing.
  • The military spouse is stationed in Washington.

There is no other minimum residency requirement. 

Notably, there is a mandatory “cooling off” period before a divorce can be granted. Whether a civilian or military divorce, a couple must wait 90 days from the time the divorce was filed to be granted a divorce in Washington.

Filing, serving, and answering the petition for divorce 

The divorce process is full of legal formalities and steps that must be accomplished in a particular order. These include filing the necessary paperwork, serving the paperwork to the other spouse, and that spouse’s answer to the petition. 

Forms needed

A civilian spouse or a military spouse can initiate a divorce. 

Washington has many official court forms that must be utilized when filing for divorce. The main form to begin the process is the Petition for Divorce (Dissolution). The petition will outline information regarding the individuals involved, their military status, the basis for the divorce, and other terms for the court to consider. In addition, a Summons will accompany the Petition notifying the respondent spouse about the divorce action and the requirements to answer it.

How and where to file and serve divorce papers

Once the forms are completed, they must be filed in the county where the petitioning spouse resides or is stationed. Another set must then be served on the respondent spouse. 

Usually, service is done in person through a third party, such as a professional process server or a sheriff. If the respondent spouse is a military member stationed outside the country, however, serving them may be more difficult. The court may need to appoint another active duty person or civilian as an officer of the court to serve papers at the overseas location. Depending on the location, service could also be completed through the Hague Service Convention, which typically meets all state requirements for service.

Once the paperwork has been served, the respondent spouse must file an answer within 20 days (60 days if they are out of state.) Failing to respond to a petition within that time frame could possibly result in a default judgment. In that case, the court would grant all the requests made in the petition. This is when the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act can come into play.

What is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act?

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal law that provides a range of legal protections to military personnel. The intent of the act is to allow the service members to devote themselves entirely to their military responsibilities without legal or financial consequences. 

These protections include:

  • Stay of court and administrative proceedings:  A service member can request a postponement of proceedings if they cannot attend a hearing because of their military commitments.
  • Stay of execution of judgments, attachments, and garnishments: The SCRA can allow for a temporary halt in the enforcement of judgments, attachments, or garnishments if the service member’s ability to pay is affected by their military service. 
  • Default judgment protection: The SCRA protects a service member from being held in default if they cannot appear because of their military duty.

If a military spouse is on duty when they are served divorce papers, they have the right to postpone divorce proceedings under the SCRA. The minimum postponement is 90 days; they may even be able to wait until their active duty is over and another 60 days after that.

How do Washington military divorces work with children?

In all divorces, civilian or military, the child’s best interests are always the benchmark used by courts in Washington when making child custody decisions. 

But the unpredictability of military life, given deployments and relocation, can complicate child custody in a military divorce in Washington. 

A parenting plan can be altered to consider these aspects of military life. Military bases are very accommodating to families, and children can still benefit from time spent with their military parent on base. If personal visitation is not possible, the courts encourage communication through phone calls or video to keep the military parent a vital part of the child’s life. 

Child support is determined through the Washington State Child Support Schedule. This schedule considers both parents’ income and other factors. For the military parent, considerations include their base pay; allowances for housing, food, or other things; and any other special pay. That said, there are limits to how much of a military member’s pay can be garnished for child support. These limits exist to make sure the military member also has enough money to support themselves.

What happens to military pensions in Washington divorce?

Military pensions and benefits are considered community property in Washington. Thus, they are subject to division during a divorce. However, the division of these benefits is handled differently than typical state property division.

Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA), a portion of the military service member’s pension can be sent directly to the non-military spouse based on the “10/10 rule.” According to this rule, the couple must have been married for at least 10 years, overlapping with 10 years of the service member’s military service. Furthermore, it should be noted that this payment is not automatically awarded. A request must be completed through the submission of a military pension order during the divorce process.

If the 10/10 rule has not been met, the court can still order a distribution of retirement pay to the civilian spouse. This amount would be paid by the service member. 

Differences between military and civilian divorces

Military divorce is similar to a civilian divorce, with a few exceptions:

  • Jurisdiction: The divorce can be filed in the state where the spouses reside or the state where the service member is stationed. Notably, since state law governs divorce law, the state where the divorce is filed can affect grounds, child custody, child and spousal support, and other matters.
  • Timeliness of the divorce: A military divorce can take longer to complete given the legal protections afforded to the service member. 
  • Child custody: Custody and parenting plans can be more complicated in military divorce.
  • Length of marriage and service: The length of the marriage and military service can be relevant in asset division.
  • Military benefits: Former military spouses can retain all military benefits and privileges, including medical care, commissary, and military exchanges, if they were married to the service member for 20 years, the service member had at least 20 years of service, and there was a 20-year overlap of the two. If there is only 15 years of overlap, a former spouse will be entitled to one year of transitional medical benefits only.
  • Survivor benefits: A former military spouse may be able to collect income from the service member’s pension after their death through the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBA).
If you’re considering a military divorce in Washington, it’s important to understand its nuances. At Hello Divorce, we don’t just offer online divorce plans; we also provide our clients with access to legal experts and attorneys who can help you navigate the intricacies of a military divorce. Schedule a free 15-minute phone call to ask questions and learn more. 


Divorce Content Specialist
Mediation, Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Mental Health
Candice is a former paralegal and has spent the last 16 years in the digital landscape, writing website content, blog posts, and articles for the legal industry. Now, at Hello Divorce, she is helping demystify the complex legal and emotional world of divorce. Away from the keyboard, she’s a devoted wife, mom, and grandmother to two awesome granddaughters who are already forces to be reckoned with. Based in Florida, she’s an avid traveler, painter, ceramic artist, and self-avowed bookish nerd.