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Military Divorce

Posted by J. Benjamin Stevens | Jul 29, 2012 | 0 Comments

Deciding how to split up a couple's accumulated assets is a challenging (but necessary) task during the divorce process. This already tough job can be made even more complicated if one or both spouses is an active duty or retired member of the military. In such situations, one of the couple's biggest assets is almost always the military spouse's pension. This pension, and all the rules that come along with it, make military divorces generally more complex than those of non-military families.

Military pensions are often worth significant amounts of money and more than the dollar figure, an added benefit is that the money is guaranteed for the rest of the military spouse's life. TheWall Street Journal states that a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who has put in 30 years of service will receive a pension worth $72,288 a year. The pensions are not paid in lump sums, but if they were, the present day value of the pension would easily exceed $1 million. What makes this even more valuable is that there is no minimum retirement age. It's conceivable that someone who enlisted at 18 could retire at 38 and go on to receive a pension, including yearly cost of living increases, for many decades into the future.

The state in which a spouse files the divorce petition can be one challenging aspect of the division of a military retirement pension. This can be tricky because, while a service member may be stationed at a base here in South Carolina, he may have a permanent residence in another state. Adding an additional wrinkle is that an estranged non-military spouse or ex-spouse could reside in yet a third state. Depending on the state, the non-military spouse could lose out on the retirement benefits if certain forms are not filled out correctly.

The length of the marriage is another factor that can contribute to the difficulty of dividing up the military retirement pension. When the marriage overlaps the military spouse's service period by 10 or more years, the nonmilitary spouse receives benefit payments directly from the government. If the marriage lasted fewer than 10 years of the service period, then the government will not enforce a court order from the non-military spouse for a share of the retirement pension. In that case, if the military spouse does not agree to provide a share of the retirement benefits directly to the nonmilitary spouse, then the matter will have to be settled in a divorce court in the appropriate state.

Military retirement pensions are also governed by a complex system of both state and federal rules. Therefore, even when a non-military spouse gets court-awarded retirement benefits after filing for divorce in the appropriate state, state and federal rules can still make collecting those benefits a challenge.

If you find yourself facing the prospect of a separation, divorce, support, visitation, or child custody issue in Spartanburg, Greenville, Anderson, or the surrounding areas, you need the help of an experienced South Carolina family law attorney to guide you through the difficult process.

Source:Divorce: Splitting Up a Rich Military Pension,” by Ellen Schultz, published at

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J. Benjamin Stevens

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