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Home : News : News
NEWS | June 13, 2014

Legal, financial advisers urge divorcing couples to seek help

By Robert Goetz Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

Divorce can have devastating emotional consequences for the parties involved, but it also poses myriad legal and financial obstacles for the separating couples.


If one or both parties are military members, resources are available at the base level to help them address those issues.

The important thing is to take that first step and seek help, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph legal and financial advisers said.


"If divorce is being considered, our office welcomes those who are entitled to legal assistance to come see us for advice or clarification of the issues involved in divorce," Charles Hasberry, 502nd Security Forces and Logistics Support Group Office of the Staff Judge Advocate chief of legal assistance, said. "We are not permitted to represent them in court, but we may be able to assist them with document production, mediation or other matters."


Hasberry said one important way the legal office can assist couples is to open the lines of communication.


"Communication is one thing we can help them with - just to get them talking," he said. "They need to come and talk to us and be aware of all the issues. Most of the time they have no clue; they don't know what their rights are, so we fill them in on their options and point out the common issues and concerns."


The issues divorcing military couples face are many and varied, including child custody, jurisdiction, property division, allocation of debt, and military benefit and pension division.


"For military people, military pension division is tricky," Hasberry said. "Even if a couple has been married a short time, the civilian spouse may be entitled to a portion of the service member's retirement. It's something that's on the table in most states. Determining the proper jurisdiction in which to file can also be a sticky issue."


The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act allows pension division in military cases, but it does not specify how to divide a pension, leaving those rules up to states. Another statute affecting former military spouses contains the Survivor Benefit Plan, an annuity for spouses whose former military partner has died.


Hasberry said each divorce is unique.


"The facts are always going to be different," he said. "No advice is applicable to every case. It's complicated and it can get messy."


The legal office can offer help up to a certain point, Hasberry said.


"If it's a simple, uncontested divorce with no children and no real estate involved, we can provide more concrete help," he said. "But if it's a contested divorce, hiring civilian counsel is likely to be recommended, although we may still be able to offer initial insight and advice."


Legal offices throughout the Air Force assist divorcing couples on a regular basis, Hasberry said.


"In 2013, the second-biggest legal assistance issue Air Force-wide was domestic relations, usually divorce," he said."


Financial advisers at the Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Military & Family Readiness Center are ready to help divorcing couples with budgetary considerations, Mike Bell, 802nd Force Support Squadron community readiness consultant, said.


"The first thing we do is determine who's responsible for what," he said. "Then we'll do a budget and spending plan. We'll see where they're at now and how they're faring, then project what their budgets will look like after the divorce."


Because couples face costs such as attorney fees, child support, alimony in some states and other expenses, lifestyle adjustments are often necessary, Bell said.


"We'll look at areas where adjustments or cuts can be made - such as cable TV, cellphones and eating out," he said. "Once they get a good grip on what things look like after those adjustments are made, they can come back and we'll look at the numbers and make more adjustments if necessary."


Organization is essential to proper budgeting, Bell said.


"I see people who don't have a budget and have never had one," he said. "I have them track their spending for two weeks or a month. That's usually a huge eye-opener - when they see where their money is going.


"We can help them get organized and get on top of what they're experiencing," Bell said. "If they stay with us, we can help them get debt-free."


In addition to counseling sessions with community readiness consultants, the M&FRC offers classes that help divorcing couples confront legal, financial and other issues, Bell said.


"We can give people options they may not have considered," he said. "We're here to help them both before and after the divorce."