How can a military service member establish residency in order to file for divorce in D.C. ?

In order to get a divorce in Washington, D.C., you must first establish residency by showing that either you or your spouse has been a resident of the District for at least six months immediately prior to filing for divorce.  However, there are special exceptions in the law for military members with significant ties to Washington DC, who may not otherwise be able to establish residency due to frequent military moves or deployments.  Generally, if you and your spouse agree that DC is a convenient forum for your divorce, and you have significant ties to the District, you will probably be able to establish jurisdiction to file for divorce in D.C.  However, if you do not agree, and your divorce will involve a child custody claim, the jurisdictional issue may become more complicated.

Where can I file for child custody in a military divorce?

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is a federal law that determines which state courts have jurisdiction in child custody matters.  The intent behind the law is to prevent a situation where two different states have accepted jurisdiction over the same matter.  Serious problems could result if different state courts enter competing or conflicting custody orders. The UCCJEA applies to all custody cases, including those involving the children of military service members. The correct jurisdiction under the UCCJEA is the state where the child has lived for the six months immediately before the child custody case is filed.  This determination can be more difficult than it might seem, especially in a case where a child has recently moved.

For a military parent who deploys overseas for more than six months, the UCCJEA rules can have harsh consequences.  If one parent files for custody after removing a child from the home state while the military member is deployed, the UCCJEA could require the military member, upon his redeployment, to litigate the claim in the child’s new state, despite the inconvenience of the forum.  The military service member could face default if he or she does not appear in court. Imagine, for example, a solider who returns to his home in Hawaii after a year-long deployment, and discovers that his former spouse has taken their child to live in Maryland and has filed a custody case in the Maryland state courts. Maryland is the proper venue for the custody case under the UCCJEA (as long as the child has lived in Maryland for at least six months), and the Hawaii-based soldier could lose custody of his child by default if he is unable to litigate the case in Maryland.  If you are a military service member who anticipates a deployment, and you are in the process of divorce, it would be wise to obtain an agreement from your former spouse that the child’s home state for jurisdictional purposes will not change during your deployment. 

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Can I File My Military Divorce and Custody Case in D.C.?