1. Georgia may not be the best state in which you could pursue your divorce. Depending on the status of your residency, you may have the option of obtaining a divorce in a different state. If so, you should learn what your different options are. Here is one small example: different states have different laws regarding child support. In Georgia, a parent cannot be required to pay child support or college expenses after a child has turned 18 and graduated from high school. (Although parents may enter an agreement to extend child support. If parents make such an agreement and incorporate that agreement into a Final Judgment and Decree Of Divorce, the requirement will be enforceable.) Other states often have different laws, which provide for child support or college expenses even after a child has turned 18. You may want to investigate your potential choices.
2. In Georgia, military retired pay is considered property, and it is subject to division in a divorce action. An award of retired pay to a former spouse is usually permanent, even if the former spouse remarries. By contrast, an award of alimony is often modifiable, meaning the court may decide to change the alimony award, either up or down, if the parties’ financial circumstances change substantially. Alimony usually terminates if the former spouse remarries, or the court may terminate alimony if the former spouse takes a live-in lover. If you are negotiating a divorce agreement, you need to be able to sort out all your legal options, taking into account your own unique circumstances.
3. You don’t have to be married for ten years in order for your spouse to make a claim for military retired pay. Again, different states have different laws regarding division of military retired pay. In Georgia, military retired pay accrued during the course of marriage is considered marital property, subject to equitable division in a divorce. “Equitable division” does not necessarily mean that retired pay should be divided equally; it means that the share of retired pay that was earned during the marriage must be divided in a way that the fact-finder decides is fair, considering all the circumstances. This is one of the many areas where an experienced divorce lawyer can help you decide what is fair and what is worth fighting for.
4. By the way, do you know what a “fact-finder” is? In Georgia, the “fact-finder” is either the judge or the jury. Georgia is one of only two states that allow a jury trial in a divorce case. Even in Georgia, the vast majority of divorces that go all the way to a trial are heard by a judge, alone. However, either side in a divorce action can request a jury trial. Where a jury is requested, the jury may decide many questions regarding property division, child support, and alimony, but the judge alone makes decisions about child custody and visitation.
5. Do you know what the 20/20 rule is? A former spouse is typically entitled to retain many military benefits, including health care, if the parties were married for at least 20 years while the service member was in the military. If the former spouse can’t meet the requirements of the 20/20 rule, health care benefits are generally available temporarily, for 18 to 36 months, under the military’s Continued Health Care Benefit Program (“CHCBP”). CHCBP must be purchased within 60 days of the time Tricare eligibility ends, but coverage actually begins when Tricare ends. As you are planning your life after divorce, don’t forget to think about you’re going to pay for health care.
Of course, this list does not come close to giving you all the information you need when you are negotiating the process of your divorce. Call and make an appointment for a consultation with Maxine Wallace. After your consultation, if you decide to retain Ms. Wallace, she will apply the consultation fee to the total cost of your divorce.