JAG Officers are great. They are attorneys knowledgeable in areas involving the Code of Military Justice and are responsible for offering legal support involving military operations. They prosecute military criminal cases and represent service members in court martial proceedings. They are called upon to give legal assistance on other areas such as employment and labor law, administrative law, and international law. Usually, the most common contact a service member has with a JAG Officer is for things such as drafting a will, reviewing leases and other contracts, and fending off creditors. Occasionally, a service member or their spouse will seek advice from a JAG Officer for matters involving family law. Unfortunately, JAG Offices are rarely equipped to give legal advice in the area of family law.
The reasons are simple. First, JAG Officers are attorneys usually licensed to practice law only in the state from which they either attended law school or from which they call their home of record. Second, family law is state specific. Each state’s laws are different and unless the JAG Officer is licensed in the state where the family law issue arises, the military attorney would be acting outside the scope of his or her authority by offering legal advice in such matters. Third, most JAG Officers want nothing to do with family law. Attorneys don’t usually go into the military having a desire to handle divorce or child custody matters.
It has been my experience that most JAG Officers advise service members or their spouses who have family law matters to seek out a private civilian attorney located off-base. However, not all private attorneys who claim to practice family law have the knowledge necessary to handle a divorce or custody matter when one of the parties is in the military. Issues involving military retirement, custody when one of the parents is deployed, TRICARE coverage after a divorce, determining income for child support purposes, etc., are issues that require special knowledge.
If you have questions about family law issues, whether those questions involve divorce, child custody, adoption, child support, domestic violence or other family law issues, don’t look to a JAG Officer for advice. Instead, seek out the advice of a qualified civilian military divorce attorney. The JAG Officer will likely thank you.