Money and children are major issues when couples end their marriages. These matters become more significant for military spouses because of frequent moves and the likelihood of younger children and an unemployed or underemployed civilian spouse.
Custody is typically not among the major issues in a military divorce. Frequent deployments affect a servicemember’s eligibility for full custody. Judges often determine that it is in the child’s best interest for a child to remain with the parent who does not deploy.
But support is important. The parent with custody has more financial burdens because deployed parents have less frequent visitation. Divorced spouses also lose access to military housing and face higher real estate costs. Civilian parents may also have less resources to pay for their children because of reduced employment opportunities from frequent relocation.
Pensions and pay
Service members retiring after at least 20 years of service are entitled to a miliary pension for the remainder of their lives. Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act, military pensions are treated as marital property which may be divided in a divorce.
Civilian spouses are entitled to half of these pensions if the marriage lasts 10 years, but pension division may be negotiated. Typically, a spouse obtains half of the marital portion of the pension if the service and marriage dates overlap. This occurs when a spouse was married to a service member for at least half of the years that the spouse served in the military.
But a spouse may seek half of the pension if they were married for less time while the service member may ask for a small division even if the marriage was longer than 10 years.
State courts can award up to half of the military spouse’s retirement pension to their former spouse during a divorce, but more salary will not be deducted from military pay and servicemembers must pay higher amounts directly to their former spouse. A spouse must also pay direct payments to their ex-spouse if a court awards a pension share to that spouse even if the marriage lasted 10 years.
The decree should specify when the service member should apply for benefits. Spouses who were not married long enough for a service overlap may agree to a smaller pension share in exchange for another asset. Unfortunately, military spouses have retired early, or intentionally lost rank to pay reduced benefits.
Spouses can also ask to be named with their children as beneficiaries under the Service Members Group Life Insurance policy. Death benefits can go to the spouse and into trust for their children.
Federal and Arizona laws govern these divorces. Attorneys can help assure that spouses protect their rights.