Having grown up in a military family, and then serving now for over 28 years as an Army officer, I love working with military clients.  Sometimes, I am retained to assist in saving an active duty servicemember's career after some kind of administrative, judicial action.  Other times, I represent military clients in South Carolina civil courts usually dealing with family law issues like divorce or custody.  They are some of my best clients, and I always enjoy helping with those case.  There are some essential things for servicemembers, or family members, to know about when a servicemember is represented.

       One of the most important things to know about military members facing and family law is that they must go to the appropriate civilian venue for resolution of cases.  For example, even though a servicemember is stationed on a Federal military installation, he is subject to civilian courts for divorce or custody issues.  That being the case, the respective court will be following the laws of the individual state. 

       Servicemembers stationed and residing in South Carolina will gain the time in residency to seek redress in South Carolina courts.  If one of the parties of a married couple has resided in SC for at least a year, or both parties resided for a least 90 days, a party can have jurisdiction in an SC Court.  The appropriate venue would be the family court of the county in which they reside.  In cases in which a service member is stationed overseas, the spouse who lives in SC for the appropriate length of time can seek jurisdiction of a local family court for divorce or custody.  Seek an attorney to verify each unique situation. 

       Servicemembers usually have free access to JAG assistance to answer family law questions, but servicemember should be aware of certain facts. Every state is different, and that's a reason that civilian attorneys can only offer legal advice for states they are licensed. Military lawyers (JAG) must only be licensed in one state to become a JAG.  They are then authorized to offer legal advice to servicemembers dealing with legal issues in any of the states.  Servicemembers should be aware of the potential for that advice to be erroneous.  For example, SC is very conservative about including all income sources when determining child support amounts.  In calculating servicemember income, almost all allowances are included in addition to base pay.  BAH, BAQ, etc. are all considered part of the overall income to determine the support amount (note:  some temporary allowances like hazardous fire pay are the only exceptions).  Other states may only use base pay in support calculations, or something less than SC.  The JAGs offering advice might now know these kinds of nuances.

       Servicemembers should be aware of their protections from civil actions including divorce/custody when deployed.  In general, legal actions are put on hold during that period of time. This can have major impacts on Divorce cases.  For example, the time period of separation for a no-fault divorce in SC is one year of separation before the parties can divorce.  However, if a servicemember is deployed that period of time is put on hold for purposes of being able to divorce.  It has a number of other such effects.  It's important for servicemembers to get the right advice about servicemember rights. The rights also go beyond family law into things like landlords taking action against servicemembers called up to active duty service.  Talk to your lawyer.

       Lastly, I want to thank all servicemembers for what you do for this great nation.  Without national security, we would have nothing, including our legal protections.  Thank you.