[Originally published at vikinglaw.us]
Your client is a G.I.— a grunt, a leatherneck, a swabbie, or a flyboy. While he was stationed overseas, he met a girl who he thought was the love of his life. After a whirlwind romance, they got married, and she followed him stateside.
Eventually, things went south. For whatever reason, marriages end every day, but for military families they are particularly heart-wrenching, especially when the non-military spouse is from another country.
When that foreign spouse leaves the U.S., the divorce process is decidedly more difficult because service of process isn’t quite as simple as hiring a server to hand her the documents. Doctrines of international and foreign law must be observed. Those doctrines vary wildly from country to country, so what is appropriate in England or Belgium might be expressly prohibited in Germany or Japan.
Family lawyers representing military clients must be meticulous about ensuring that service is effected properly—even if the court is unaware of the proper procedure—and just reading the applicable treaty or status or forces agreement is not enough. The nightmare scenario if the procedure is not carried out correctly: the foreign spouse has a change of heart, returns to find her husband married again… and files an action to nullify his later marriage. Far-fetched, of course, but possible.
(Where a spouse seeks to serve a U.S. servicemember stationed or deployed abroad, it gets even more complicated. We elaborate here.)