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Civilians have many rights in a military divorce

Marrying someone who serves in the U.S. military is often a challenge from the beginning. No matter what branch of service or whether your spouse was active duty or reserves, you have lived your lives at the beck and call of the armed forces. You may have endured abrupt moves from station to station, life on a military base and long deployments that took your spouse to distant and dangerous lands.

Such a life takes its toll on a relationship, and it is common to hear of divorce among military couples. However, there are factors about a military divorce that differ from a divorce between civilians. If you don't know your rights, you may not be able to demand them before it is too late.

Your share of retirement pay

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act was enacted to protect people like you who often sacrifice your careers and goals to allow your spouse to pursue a military career. Because of frequent moves, many civilian spouses of service members are not able to build their own retirement accounts or establish seniority in a company.

The USFSPA provides you with some measure of security in the event of divorce because it gives California and other states the flexibility to include your spouse's retirement pay as marital property to be divided up to one half. However, this division must take place during your divorce settlement. Waiting until your spouse retires will be too late.

Other benefits you may be able to claim

After your divorce, if your ex-spouse dies, his or her retirement pay stops. However, you are entitled to collect from his or her Survivor Benefits Plan. The government created this insurance plan to sustain you and other civilian spouses when your ex's retirement money is no longer available.

As with the USFSPA, the SBP has limitations. You must apply for it within a year after your divorce, and you must follow the specific rules and meet all the deadlines. If you are like many spouses of service members, these benefits are vital to your future security.

Making sure you obtain all your rightful benefits

Your divorce may also affect the health insurance coverage provided through your spouse's military service, as well as your ID card and access to commissaries and other base privileges. These benefits are rightly yours, depending on the number of years you were married, your particular state's statutes and other factors.

Obtaining or retaining these benefits often involves complicated procedures, confusing paperwork and crucial deadlines. This is why advisors recommend that civilian spouses do not approach a military divorce without sound legal counsel.

Having an attorney who has successfully protected the rights of many divorcing civilians and service members ensures that you can have confidence in the advice you hear and the representation you receive. From child custody issues to your personal financial security, an attorney will fight for a settlement that satisfies your unique situation.

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