The military provides service members with many opportunities and chances for advancement, but those do not come without hardships, specifically marital strain. Military marriages can struggle to be successful due to all the strain and stress associated with the job's demands. Even when marriages are built on a firm foundation, they can be weighed down from the demands of deployments and regular moves away from family and stability. While many military marriages do survive, those that don’t may find they face complicated divorces. Military divorces aren’t necessarily complicated on their face, but they can prove challenging due to civilian courts and military regulations. The unique issues military couples face during divorce vary, but one of the thornier ones can be the division of military pensions.
The Impact of Divorce on Military Pensions
After 20 years of service, a service member qualifies for a retirement pension that is an annuity paid out over the remainder of their lives. The Uniform Service Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) provides spousal protections, and it was drafted and passed in 1982. The USFSPA gives civilian courts guidance regarding how military retirement pay should be treated in divorce proceedings. Military retirement pay is considered communal marital property when divorce providing the marriage lasted a prescribed term. Military pensions are often some of the largest assets in a military divorce. Most service members and their families move frequently, and these frequent moves can adversely affect their net worth and ability to grow assets. Many military households are often one income due to their transient lifestyle. Many military couples have fewer opportunities to build wealth due to frequent moves and limited access to other employment opportunities for civilian spouses. So, a military pension can often be an invaluable safety net and the largest asset in many military divorces.
It’s important to note that the USFSPA provides guidance for how military pensions are treated in a divorce, but it doesn’t require that the asset be divided equally. Spouses are not guaranteed a portion of the military retirement entitlement. A judge must award it in the divorce settlement. There are various ways to divide assets where everyone gets a portion, and there may be some reluctance to divvy up a large asset when it can be left intact if other assets are available. Additionally, the spouse must qualify to receive a portion of the retirement pension. A spouse must be married to their service member ex for at least ten years, with those years overlapping the decade of military service.
Empathetic and Knowledgeable Divorce Lawyers
Military divorces are the same as civilian ones in most ways, but where military divorces differ poses challenges for couples. These differences and challenges can be minimized by finding an attorney to represent your interest. If you’re not yet at the phase where you want to file for divorce, an attorney can still answer any questions or help you develop a strategy for your case. If you know that you are ready to file for a divorce, the attorney at Palmer Rodak can help you get started on your case. Our attorneys can develop a strategy for your military divorce. Call us today at (760) 573-2223 to schedule a consultation.