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Federal laws play important role in military divorce

Divorce in the military is unique in some ways from civilian divorce, namely in that federal laws apply as well as state laws. One such federal law is the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. Let's take a closer look at the USFSPA as summarized on the Defense Finance and Accounting Service's website. The following, we should note, is intended as general information only and not specific legal advice for any servicemen or servicewomen contemplating a military divorce.

The USFSPA serves essentially two functions. The first is recognizing that a state court may distribute military retirement pay to a service member's spouse in a divorce. The second is affording these courts a mechanism through which to enforce such orders (i.e., through the Department of Defense).

There are some additional provisions in the law which facilitate the enforcement of court-ordered child support and alimony payments. Notably, however, the law doesn't automatically entitle a divorcing spouse to a share of the service member's retirement pay, child support or alimony. Those still must be awarded through a court order.

The USFSPA also includes something which military personnel commonly refer to as the 10/10 Rule. The 10/10 Rule stipulates that:

  • Partners must have been married for at least 10 years.
  • During those 10 years, the service member must have put in at least 10 years of service which could be credited towards his or her eligibility for retirement.

Enforcement of court-ordered child support and alimony, however, are not subject to the 10/10 Rule.

The USFSPA may have significant ramifications for partners in a military divorce, both for military spouses and civilian spouses with military partners. We'll delve into some frequently asked questions and answers about the law in our next blog post.

Source: Defense Finance and Accounting Service, "Former Spouses Protection Act Legal Overview," accessed on March 9, 2015

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