Divorce and the Military
Tip: Don’t assume your civilian lawyer knows military law.
You don’t have to be a general – or the spouse of a general to have military benefits. If either of you is an active or a retired member of the military, including the National Guard, you have assets to share in a military divorce.
Divorces involving an active or retired member of the military (including the reserves) create special issues. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act gives states discretion as to how to divide military pensions. In addition to retirement pay, the act also covers commissary and exchange privileges and medical care provisions.
Retirement pay, medical care provisions, commissary and exchange privileges and certain emergency child support orders fall under federal – not state – law. The federal law will supercede your settlement agreement or state laws, but don’t assume the benefits are automatically yours. You have to ask for them.
Essential Things to Remember Regarding Divorce and the Military:
- Federal law considers military retirement pay as marital property but states don’t handle it the same way.
- A state court order is not enough to establish your benefits.
- You have only one year after the divorce to claim your share.
- If you remarry before you’re 55, you lose the benefits.
- Benefits may be restored if your new marriage ends in death or divorce.
- According to federal law, divorce spouses are not entitled to the service member’s disability pay.
- If you have been married at least 10 years and the spouse has the required amount of creditable service, the former spouse may be entitled to receive retirement pay directly from the Defense and Accounting Service office (www.dfas.mil)
- If you and your military spouse were married for 20 years or more then you are eligible for medical coverage. Your dependent children continue to receive coverage. Visit your regional TRICARE office, www.tricare.osd.mil, for info on eligibility.
Essential Things to Do:
- Visit Militarydivorceonline.com for state details and advice in finding military lawyers. Good overview plus a divorce packet, based on Texas law, you can download as a guide in organizing your own information.
- Arm yourself with Military Divorce Faqs.
- Find out how much your lawyer knows about military law.
- Read A Lawyer’s Guide to Military Retirement and Benefits in Divorce by Marshal Willick.
- Check out www.nmfa.org, The National Military Family Association for resources and information.
- www.ex-pose.org Ex-Partners of Servicemembers for Equality
- USAA has a free guide entitled “When Your Marital Status Changes” that you can order, 1-800-531-1111. Mention product code CMSGD.