Barracks Lawyers, the Internet, and Divorce
The best movie ever made about the Army in peacetime is probably From Here to Eternity. (If you have another candidate, let me know). If you haven’t seen it – or it was too long ago to remember much of – it takes place in Schofield Barracks in Oahu in the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
It’s peacetime but there’s plenty of intrigue, converging plot lines, great dialogue, and lots of conflict. The action is frequently prodded on by that most constant of barracks life, the barracks lawyer.
A barracks lawyer, according to the Dictionary of American Slang, is:
1.a member of the armed forces who speaks or acts like an authority on military law, regulations, and the rights of service personnel.
2.a soldier who is argumentative, esp on fine points, and tends to be a meddler, complainer, and self-server (1940s+ Army)
Barracks lawyers have been a part of military life since the siege of Troy. They take bits and pieces of rules, laws, and regulations and mix them all together into some kind of ‘this is the law’ mishmash that does little more than create problems for … well, everyone.
In From Here to Eternity, barracks lawyers are the bane of First Sergeant Milton Warden’s existence (an amazing Burt Lancaster). There’s too much free time in Hawaii and his company has more than one barracks lawyer. They give legal advice to everyone else in the company and they do it loudly. Often. Unsolicited. Think Cliff Claven at the Cheers bar.
In 1941, though, Sgt. Warden had a fairly easy way of taking care of the problem – the peacetime Army had a long tradition of transferring barracks lawyers to another unit.
There are, of course, still barrack lawyers in the armed forces. In 2016, however, transfer is not the answer because the barracks lawyer has access to the Internet. The same wonderful technology that allows us to watch From Here to Eternity anytime we want gives the barracks lawyer the ability to share their ‘expertise’ with the world. Instantaneously.
Which is why even the most cursory Google search will pop up page after page of minute instructions on how divorce for members of the military work. “Represent yourself;” or “make sure your lawyer is doing this;” or “follow this simple flow chart” and hundreds more.
The result of all this is that the Internet is awash with facts about military divorce and custody and every conceivable spinoff. Are they right, wrong, and/or myths? The short answer is: “It depends.”
It depends on the facts – something the barracks lawyer is very short on. Every case is as different as the people involved in it. It’s that simple. Every divorce/custody case is unique. Being a member of the military may or may not make divorce more complicated. No one knows until someone looks at the facts. Every fact.
The Internet is a one-way street. Think of going online for advice on how to hit a tennis backhand, going out on the court to give it a whirl and having no one there to critique your form.
My job is to listen and apply the facts – your facts – to the law and reach the best possible solution as economically – in money and time – as possible. Sometimes, like Sgt. Warden, I have to get through the barracks lawyer first.