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What happens to retired military personnel benefits in divorce?

A military divorce, on a very basic level, isn't necessarily any more or less complicated than any other civilian divorce of the kind that take place in Texas every day. But where a military divorce becomes unique is that military laws -- federal laws -- apply to certain aspects. Military benefits, for example, are one element of a service member's divorce which are governed by military laws.

Military service members and their partners who are considering or who are going through a divorce will need to be familiar with the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. This law grants state courts the ability to divide military retirement pay the same way they would any other assets during property division. It also allows a non-military spouse to receive a court-awarded percentage of this pay through direct electronic deposit to a bank account.

Note, however, that the USFSPA doesn't guarantee a former spouse the right to receive such payments. It's still up to the state court handling the divorce to determine whether or how much to award.

Once a court has made such an award to an ex-spouse, that individual will need to complete a form called an Application for Former Spouse Payments from Retired Pay, along with a copy of the court order indicating the amount awarded. It may also be necessary to prove that the court had appropriate jurisdiction or that the couple were married for at least 10 years and the military spouse member served a minimum of 10 years during that time. This is called the "10/10 Rule."

This information is general and is not intended as specific legal advice, but readers will hopefully begin to get a sense of how federal laws apply to property division in a military divorce. We'll look a little more at what other issues can arise, and how a legal professional can help, in our next blog post.

Source: Defense Finance and Accounting Services, "Former Spouses' Protection Act: Frequently Asked Questions," accessed Sept. 20, 2014

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