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Military divorce and property division (part 1)

Military marriages, as we were discussing last week here on our Dallas family law blog, are unique in many ways, including the early age at which spouses tend to wed and some of the reasons why they do so. The end of a military marriage also brings some challenges, often including the need to divide military retirement pay.

Some spouses of military service members may assume that they will be entitled to a percentage of military retirement pay if they should divorce. While it's possible, it is not an automatic entitlement. Unlike some military benefits which are governed by federal laws, retirement pay must be divided by a state court order.

In order to issue such an order, a state court must have jurisdiction over the military service member. Jurisdiction may be based on:

  • The service member's residence in the state (not due to assignment there through the military);
  • The service member having a domicile in the state; or
  • The service member's consent to the court's jurisdiction.

Because service members tend to be a highly mobile population, jurisdiction can become problematic in some situations.

The federal law that affords state courts the authority to treat military retirement pay as property subject to state law is called the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. It also offers spouses options for enforcement if a court-awarded portion of military retirement pay is not being received. We'll take a look at some other provisions of the USFSPA in a follow-up post. The information is intended to be general in nature only and not interpreted as specific legal advice.

Source: DFAS.mil, "Frequently Asked Questions," accessed on Jan. 16, 2016

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