Military divorce complications can crop up over a lifetime

On behalf of Jarrell, Hicks & Waldman, PC posted in Military Family Law on Wednesday, March 21, 2012.

Divorce is never easy, but when one spouse is in the military, there are unique complications that can make the divorce even harder and the complications can continue to crop up over a lifetime. The divorce rate in the United States is high, but for military service members divorce rates are even higher and have risen to 3.7 percent in 2011 from 2.6 percent in 2001.

When dividing up assets in a military divorce the largest asset is typically the pension plan for the military member. The benefits that military members receive can be substantial and depending on how long you were married while the spouse was in the military, can determine the amount of money that you would be entitled to. Also, military pension plans are more valuable than other pension plans because there is no minimum age. If someone enlists at age 18 and retires at age 38, they can receive a pension with cost-of-living increases for the next 40 years.

A former spouse is entitled to one-half of the amount that accrued during their marriage. For example if you were married 20 years and the entire time your spouse served in the military, and the pension is worth $400,000, you would be entitled to half of that amount.

The issues that tend to come up after a divorce is finalized include:

  • If your marriage lasted less than 10 years, payments from the pension go to the military member and not the ex-spouse. It is up to the military member to send the payment to the former spouse otherwise the ex-spouse has to go to divorce court in the state that the military spouse lives in order to get it changed. It is an expensive and long process.
  • Filing a challenge if you live in different states can also cause problems and only an attorney familiar with military divorce can navigate the system.
  • If all forms are not filled out properly, it can delay or even void benefits. Some forms require that they be filled out within one year of the divorce in order to be valid.
  • Failing to file a survivor benefits form during the divorce process could lead to benefits stopping when the service member dies.
  • If your ex-spouse files a disability rating, benefits may be reduced or stopped.

Divorce is hard, but a military divorce is more complicated.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Divorce: Splitting up a Rich Military Pension," Ellen E. Schultz, March 9, 2012

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