I often represent service members who have family law issues. I'm sure no one will disagree, though, that SMs don't usually have the financial resources for expensive divorce litigation. If the issues are not complex (for example, do not involve child custody or parenting time, or do not involve a claim regarding any rights to retirement benefits because the marriage is very short and it's easier in the long run to offset a retirement claim against another asset), there are times when SMs can help themselves. It's not something I recommend that an SM do, however, without first taking a careful look at the issues and perhaps scheduling an appointment with an experienced family law attorney.
Child custody and parenting time issues always involve a determination of the home state of the minor child or children. The home state (where the child or children have been residing with a parent or parents for six months prior to commencement of the action) has priority over all other States to make the initial child custody determination. Thus, I would highly recommend that an SM consult with experienced counsel before filing.
Issue Two: Division of military retirement. This is a very complicated issue and has to be done correctly. Many family law attorneys have no clue about how to do it right. Usually, however, the retirement is the most valuable asset a military family owns. Thus, this is not an issue to be lightly dealt with.
Issue Three: Deployments and custody: Once again, this can be a complicated issue that can negatively impact a service member's custodial rights. Here's a link to an excellent tip sheet on handling deployments and custody. Many states, such as Michigan, have custody laws that protect an SM's custodial rights during deployments. Usually, diplomatic negotiation of the deploying SM's primary custodial rights may achieve a result that will protect custodial rights upon return. Have an experienced family lawyer help you with negotiations if necessary.
Mark E. Sullivan, COL, USAR, Ret. has prepared some excellent materials for SMs to provide them with a large amount of valuable information. This information is not intended to substitute for a lawyer, but it will help SMs figure out some of the important issues in a divorce and, if the SM has to go it alone because he or she cannot afford a lawyer, Sullivan's guide is invaluable.
Sullivan's "legal eagle" series of lay-people friendly guides can be accessed here:
For a collection of articles on this Blog about deployments and how SMs can protect their parental rights, here's a link to all articles on deployments and custody.