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Divorce and the division of a military pension

Military couples live in unique circumstances that can make divorce a tricky enterprise. The military lifestyle can put the spouses of service members in situations where they’re unable to work due to frequent moves. As such, they may be entitled to a significant amount of spousal support in the event of a divorce.

The husband or wife of a service member can also claim a portion of their spouse’s military retirement benefits. A military pension can be a significant asset, as service members typically accrue benefits more quickly than a civilian. When such a sizable amount of money is at stake, it’s important to know how its division works in a military divorce.

When are you entitled to a share of your spouse’s pension?

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) ensures that the military must accept state orders related to spousal support and retirement pay. However, for one to qualify for a share of their spouse’s pension, what’s known as the “10/10 requirement” must be met.

This requirement states that a spouse can claim retirement pay if they can show the couple was married for at least 10 years and during that time the service member accumulated 10 creditable years of military service. Per the USFSPA, if these criteria are satisfied, a spouse can claim up to 50 percent of the retirement benefits in question.

The division of the pension is negotiable

As marital property, it’s important to note that the division of a military pension is negotiable. If a couple was married for less than 10 years, the spouse could still ask for half of the pension. Conversely, if they were married for a longer time, the service member can request that the spouse receive less than 50 percent.

While the USFSPA allows up to half of a service member’s retirement pension to be allocated to their spouse, that’s simply the maximum the Defense Finance and Accounting Service can deduct from a retiree’s pay. A judge may rule that the service member should pay a higher percentage, and they would then be responsible for paying out those funds on their own.

The Survivor’s Benefit Plan

Spouses of service members would also be wise to remember the Survivor’s Benefit Plan during a divorce. When a service member dies, their pension is replaced by the Survivor’s Benefit Plan annuity, and if a spouse is not included in this contract, they will no longer receive pension payments.

Military divorces are inherently unique, and each individual case will be different. It’s key that those going through this legal process be aware of what they may be entitled to. An attorney who is in tune with military family law can be of great help when it comes to reaching an equitable settlement.

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