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What Is a Military Spouse Entitled to in a Divorce?


If your spouse is in the military and the two of you are planning to divorce, what benefits will you receive? If you end your marriage with a member of the Armed Forces, you’ll be able to keep some of the advantages you had when you were married. However, you may have to pay for benefits that were previously free or low-cost, and some advantages will no longer be available.

Here are some of the benefits you can expect once your marriage is over or if you separate
from your military spouse.

Legal Separation and Military Benefits

In some states, including Colorado, legal separation can serve as a substitute for divorce. This is because the Department of Defense treats legally separated military spouses as married, so they will still receive benefits. According to identification cards for members of the uniformed services, their eligible family members, and other eligible personnel, an individual is considered a spouse until an annulment, dissolution, final divorce, or death occurs.

Wedding rings
Photo by Drew Coffman on Unsplash

The regulation also defines a “former spouse” as someone who has completed the divorce or annulment process. There is no mention of legal separation.

If you’re legally separated, you can still keep your ID card, along with access to the benefits afforded to you during your marriage. Military retirement and SBP are decided upon when you and your spouse file a decree of legal separation.

The spouse who is legally separated from the member of the military will not receive retirement benefits after entry of the separation decree. This is because the separation period doesn’t count as marriage for the purposes of certain benefits for the former spouse.

Military Retirement and Divorce

Members of the military receive a benefit pension. Under the pension, an individual in the
military who has served 20 years or more will receive a monthly payment upon retirement. The amount received is based on the individual’s base pay while in the military, years of service, and a multiplier specific to retirement.

Traditionally, the multiplier is 2.5% multiplied by the years of service. So, if a member of the military retires after 20 years, he/she will receive 50% of basic pay per month in retirement. New members and individuals who chose blended retirement receive 2% for each year of service.

The value of retirement payments could be hundreds of thousands of dollars — senior officers could receive over $1 million. This makes retirement one of the most valuable assets military spouses earn during their marriage to a member of the Armed Forces. Retirement is subject to division during a divorce or legal separation, no matter how long a military couple is married.

However, military spouses do not receive the payments until the member of the military retires and begins receiving retirement payments. If the member of the armed forces and his/her spouse have been married for at least 10 years, DFAS will pay the former spouse’s share directly to him/her. If the marriage is shorter than 10 years, the retiree will have to send a payment to his/her former spouse every month.

It’s important to note that the former spouse typically will no longer receive military retirement benefits once the retired military member passes away. However, there are certain ways to secure continued retirement payments if the retiree dies before the former spouse.

A family law attorney can help you navigate complex issues and reach the best outcome. It’s best to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible. A qualified attorney can answer all of your questions about divorce in general, as well as the specifics of a military divorce. That way, you will be prepared to end your marriage as quickly and amicably as possible.

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