Military Retirement Pay & Divorce

By Beverly Bird

Military divorces are a unique legal area with several federal considerations. When it comes to retirement benefits, however, Uncle Sam takes a step back and allows individual states to rule on dividing them in a divorce. The federal government is still involved, but it defers some decisions to state courts.

State Jurisdiction

Although military retirement pay originates from the federal government, the law considers it a marital asset. Therefore, it falls to state courts to apportion it in a divorce. To do this, the state must have jurisdiction over both spouses. The spouse who files the divorce complaint must attest in the complaint that she’s met her state’s residency requirements; this gives the state jurisdiction over her. The court achieves jurisdiction over the other spouse through process of service, when he’s officially given a copy of the divorce complaint. If he is serving in the military and is deployed overseas, he must generally consent to service. If he's retired, however, he would be served as a civilian. After service is completed and jurisdiction is accomplished, the laws of the state where the complaint was filed apply to all property distribution, including military retirement pay.

Impact of State Laws

When a state court divides a service member’s retirement pay in a divorce, some states require him to begin writing a check to his spouse each month for her share before he has retired. In these states, the non-military spouse’s benefits kick in when the service member is eligible to retire, not when he actually does. He may end up making payments before he begins receiving retirement pay.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Child Support and Alimony

If a service member is already retired when he divorces, and if he is already receiving his retirement pay, state courts have the right to treat this as regular income for child support and alimony purposes. Child support may be payable through garnishment of retirement benefits, especially if the noncustodial parent falls behind in making payments.

Defense Finance and Accounting Service

Although the federal government doesn’t dictate how the court should apportion retirement pay, it might become involved with how the nonmilitary spouse receives that pay. With long-term marriages of 10 years or more, if the military spouse served during 10 of those years, the federal Defense Finance and Accounting Service will write the nonmilitary spouse a check each month for her portion of the service member’s retirement pay, if she requests it. Otherwise, the service member must take care of the payments himself.

Survivor Benefit Plan

A nonmilitary spouse may have the right to continue as beneficiary of a service member’s survivor benefit plan annuity after he’s retired. Normally, divorce would eliminate her as beneficiary if the service member named her as such before the final divorce decree. But if spouses agree in a divorce settlement that she should remain as beneficiary, or if a judge orders it, she can continue by changing her status from “spouse” to “former spouse.” The federal government will honor this.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Disability in a Military Divorce


Related articles

Can Alimony Be Paid Directly to the Ex-Spouse & Child Support Through Child Support Enforcement?

When couples divorce, the court may issue a divorce decree ordering a spouse to pay child support and alimony to the other spouse. Typically, the divorce decree describes the manner in which payments must be made. Courts may direct that alimony be paid directly to the recipient spouse while child support is paid to the recipient spouse through the state’s child support agency. However, if these arrangements do not work well for the parties, the court may permit alternate arrangements.

Military Divorce and Alimony

Military couples cannot get divorced by military courts, so they must get their divorces in state courts. Since divorce laws vary between states, alimony may be awarded in one case but not in a similar case in another state. Alimony amounts may also vary according to each state’s laws, though federal law caps the amount a state court can take from a military member’s wages.

Social Security Benefits for Divorced Wives

Divorcing after a long-term marriage can leave a wife in a financial pickle at retirement age if she gave most of her time to her family and home during the marriage, because Social Security benefits are based on the contributions you've made over the years. The Social Security Administration protects such spouses, but limitations and qualifications apply.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

VA Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Most military benefits to a spouse automatically terminate once a divorce is finalized, but some former military ...

North Carolina Statute for a Divorced Spouse's Entitlement to a Military Pension

Your divorce decree will divide many different types of property – real estate, personal property and money. If your ...

Virginia Retirement Funds and a Divorced Spouse's Rights

Virginia divorce law allows a person to share in her former spouse's retirement plans in some cases. Virginia is an ...

Military Divorce Benefits When Married Less Than 10 Years

Losing access to military benefits can be one of the most difficult financial hits a non-military spouse faces in ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED