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Dividing a military pension in divorce

As a civilian spouse, you understand how difficult military marriage can be. You must cope with long absences and frequent moves among other challenges. Sometimes these challenges take their toll and a couple decides to divorce.

Military couples also endure a more difficult process than in civilian life, as they must consider military-specific procedures and rules.

One way in which this comes into play is when couples must determine how to divide the military retirement pension, if at all. In this post, we will inform you about some requirements that must be fulfilled before determining who gets what.

Federal protections

Before you file for divorce, keep in mind that federal law grants your military spouse certain protections in court proceedings. For example, when civil proceedings are brought against a service member, the law allows for a 90-day stay or continuance. Other federal provisions affect the division of military retirement benefits.

Pension eligibility

A military member must complete 20 years of service to be entitled to a pension. If the military member doesn't fulfill the requirement, he or she does not receive a pension.

Also keep in mind that civilian spouses aren't necessarily entitled to receive a portion of the pension. Instead, it is awarded by the state court or negotiated between the couple.

An ex-spouse can be awarded, at maximum, half of the retirement pension. For an ex-spouse to be eligible for half of the pension, the couple must have been married for 10 years coinciding with 10 years of service, according to federal law.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service

If the 10 years of service and marriage requirement is met, the ex-spouse who is being awarded a share of the other's pension qualifies for direct payment from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).

If the requirement is not met, an Illinois court can still award a portion of the pension to the ex-spouse. But the ex-spouse would not receive directly from the DFAS.

Another thing to keep in mind is that pension is divided based only on what was accrued during the duration of the marriage. If a military member served 20 years but was married for only 10 of those years, the spouse would only be eligible to receive a portion of the money accumulated during that time.

Survivor benefits

Couples may also consider the Survivor's Benefit Plan (SBP) when dividing a pension. The SBP ensures that a military member's beneficiary receives an annuity if the servicemember passes away, so that retirement pay doesn't stop at death.

Despite being the beneficiary during marriage, the ex-spouse of a service member is generally not entitled to SBP payments after divorce. However, courts may require in a divorce decree that the service member elect former spouse coverage for SBP.

Understanding your options

Military divorce can be complex and stressful for civilian spouses. However, federal law contains important protections for former spouses of service members so that they are not left empty-handed following divorce.

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