Unique aspects of divorce for active duty or retired military

Divorce is rarely “easy.” Even if the emotions don’t overwhelm you, there are still many considerations that must be addressed, including division of assets, setting up two separate households, division of joint/marital debts and, if you are parents, establishing child custody and visitation arrangements. There could also be questions about child support or alimony (sometimes called “spousal support” or “spousal maintenance”).

When one of you is currently in the military or has retired, however, there are unique considerations that aren’t at issue in divorces involving civilians. Among these are military pension accounts, Survivor Benefit Plan funds, military medical benefits, commissary/exchange privileges and VA disability compensation/waivers.

Understanding how these unique aspects of military divorces will affect the end of your marriage – and your new life after the divorce is final – is key to ensuring that each of you gets an equitable share of marital assets and joint debts, including those benefits offered to military members in exchange for their service.

The military pension

One of the most valuable assets at stake in any divorce involving a current or retired military member is the military retirement pension. Usually, in a military divorce, the spouse is entitled to a portion of the “marital share” of the pension (the portion acquired during the marriage), measured from the day of the marriage or the day of enlistment – whichever comes later – to the day of the divorce or separation.

If, for example, the military spouse marries after already being in the service for 10 years, his or her spouse typically wouldn’t be entitled to the portion of retirement pension benefits that accrued prior to the marriage. It is possible for the military spouse to agree to divvy up a higher portion of the pension funds in exchange for other assets or concessions, however.

Survivor benefits

Another key asset that needs to be accounted for in a military divorce is the Survivor Benefit Plan designation. The SBP awards a portion of the servicemember’s pension to his or her spouse upon the servicemember’s death. It is, in some ways, like insurance to protect the pension funds eligible to a spouse or former spouse. Also like an insurance policy, the person to receive funds pursuant to the SBP must be specifically designated (like the beneficiary of an insurance policy). If no survivor is named on the servicemember’s pension account, then the funds stop once the servicemember dies.

This post has barely scratched the surface of the differences between military divorces and those in the civilian world. For more information about divorce involving one or more current or retired military service personnel, contact an experienced attorney in your area who has knowledge about the unique aspects of military family law.