Each divorce case must begin with filing and service of the divorce petition on a spouse. This is generally not a problem, since most spouses know where to find each other. However, civilian spouses of servicemembers may not know the member’s exact location, particularly if the couple has been separated for some time. The civilian spouse does have some options in this case. You must have the servicemember’s name, social security number, and rank available.
First, contact the “base locator” at the member’s last station. If the member remains at that station, his/her presence can be confirmed and service arranged.
Second, the “legal assistance attorney” is a JAG officer available to assist servicemembers and their families with legal issues, including service of papers. Your local office can be found at https://installations.militaryonesource.mil/
Third, use the Worldwide Military Locator services. This service is available free to civilian spouses and children, and a minimal charge for non-family members. Each branch has its own address for requests, some also available by phone. Some branches will provide only location for active duty members, while others expand the service to different categories of non-active/retired members.
Fourth, federal law requires the armed services to assist in service of papers involving child support. If you and the servicemember have children, should ensure that your petition requests an award of child support, so service assistance is available. This option applies to paternity actions as well as divorce. Each branch has its own address for service assistance. The branch will not actually serve the papers, but is required to provide sufficient information to facilitate service. Further information can be found here: https://www.defense.gov/ask-us/listing/
No divorce, child support, paternity, or other family case can proceed in Wisconsin unless the papers are formally served. Obtaining personal service on a servicemember may be difficult if the spouses have been separated or the member’s location is unknown or deployed. The above tools are available to assist a civilian spouse, but I still recommend that you work with an attorney to guarantee correct service to start your case.
Attorney David Kowalski routinely handles military divorces for both servicemembers and their spouses. Contact him at 608-709-5000 with any questions.