Military Couples and Overseas Divorce

Military couples should be wary before filing for divorce in a foreign country simply because it might be quicker of cheaper than obtaining a divorce in the U.S.  A divorce decree from a foreign country generally won’t be recognized in the U.S. unless one of the spouses was domiciled in the foreign country at time of divorce (i.e. resided there with intent that the foreign country be their “permanent home”). 

The U.S. Supreme Court established that a State court must have jurisdiction over the parties for a divorce to be valid.  Jurisdiction is based on one of the parties being domiciled in the State in which the divorce court is located.

One place this issue absolutely will bite a former spouse is when he or she files to obtain their court-ordered share of the member’s military retired pay.  The Defense Finance & Accounting Service (DFAS) will not honor a divorce decree from a foreign country.  Per the Uniform Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA), DFAS can only honor divorce orders from courts of “competent jurisdiction,” which according to the USFSPA does not include courts of foreign countries.  Check out DFAS’ frequently asked questions, or FAQs.

Author Jim Cramp is an attorney and retired active duty colonel.  He provides a spectrum of family-related legal services in the greater San Antonio region.