The potential benefits of divorcing a military retiree depend on a few factors, including how long the marriage lasted and how long during the military service the couple was married.
The military recognizes the sacrifices spouses often make in order to support the military member. Military wives and husbands must deal with lengthy absences from their spouses and sometimes must accept the fact that the military has to come first before the family. As a result of this stressful culture, dependent husbands and wives are considered to be entitled to some of the retirement benefits afforded to the retired member as long as eligibility requirements are met.
In some instances, the non-military spouse can retain all of the same benefits despite the divorce including:
- Access to military installations
- Commissary and Exchange privileges
- Health insurance
These benefits of divorcing a military retiree are in addition to any other benefits negotiated in the divorce process, such as alimony or retention of property. Typically the retiree has no say in whether the divorcing dependent is allowed to retain access to the military installation or not because these benefits are decided by the military and not the retiree. In other words, some benefits do not have to be argued over during the divorce proceedings because these benefits are automatic.
Differing Benefits of Divorcing a Military Retiree
Some spouses will be entitled to a portion of the monthly retirement pay of the retiree. Spouses entitled to a portion of the retiree's pay oftentimes receive this money directly deposited into their bank accounts, eliminating any need to await payment directly from the retiree. There is not a concrete formula regarding what percentage of retirement pay a divorcing spouse is entitled to. The amount can be negotiated in the divorce proceedings and are dependent upon the divorce laws of the state in which the divorce is filed. It is fairly common for spouses to receive a percentage of a servicemember's retirement pay, particularly if the marriage lasted for the majority of the retiree's time in service.
The benefits that divorcing spouses may be eligible for depend largely on a few different factors.
- Was the couple married while the retiree was still on active duty? Spouses who were together throughout the majority of the retiree's service will usually be entitled to a higher portion of retirement pay when compared to couples who were not together during the retiree's time on active duty.
- How long did the marriage last? A marriage that lasts for 20 years will be viewed differently than one that lasted for six months, for example.
- What does the divorcing spouse request? Since specific distribution of retirement funds are not necessarily guaranteed in a divorce, a spouse not asking for this benefit may not receive the maximum share of retirement pay he or she is actually entitled to.
The Uniform Services Former Spouse Protection Act
As with most matters pertaining to military culture, there are regulations that apply when a divorce occurs between a military couple (active duty or retiree). The Uniform Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) is the Act that allows states to handle the division of military retirement pay in divorces. The same Act also specifies what is known as the 20/20/20 rule: a spouse who was married to a military member for at least 20 years, with the military member serving at least 20 years of honorable service, and the marriage overlapping the honorable service for at least 20 years, is entitled to full benefits including commissary, exchange, and base access. These spouses also retain TriCare benefits.
These benefits are particularly important for spouses who have spent many years caring for their military spouses and now find themselves divorced. Having access to the military installation and full health benefits can help ease the transition from married to single status.