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Divorce and the division of military pensions

There is no question that life in the military, while certainly rewarding from a professional perspective, doesn't come without certain sacrifices from a personal perspective. Indeed, many married couples will have to contend with the challenges of long hours, frequent relocations and, of course, prolonged deployments.

While the majority of couples are able to make this work, there are many others who simply cannot save their marriage despite their best efforts. As understandable as this is, it's important to appreciate that military divorce nevertheless presents unique legal considerations, particularly when it comes to property division.

To illustrate, one of the more complex and contentious issues to be addressed in any military divorce is the military pension.

This is largely because the spouse who dons the uniform, rises in the ranks and invests years serving their country understandably believes that the pension belongs solely to them. However, their spouse who dutifully followed them, supported them and potentially abandoned their own career prospects, understandably believes that they too are entitled to a portion of the pension by virtue of their sacrifice.

First and foremost, it's important for divorcing military spouses to understand that any discussion of dividing a military pension will inevitably touch on the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act.

Passed by Congress back in 1982, the USFSPA is intended to provide civilian spouses in a military marriage with some degree of financial protection should a divorce prove inevitable.

It essentially does this by allowing the 50 states to treat military disposable retired pay -- meaning the monthly pension payment to which a servicemember is entitled -- as marital property that can be divided in a divorce.

Furthermore, the USFSPA allows civilian spouses to receive whatever share of military disposable retired pay is awarded by the court via direct payments from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service or another retired pay center.

We will continue examining this important topic in future posts.

If you have questions about military divorce, please consider speaking with a skilled legal professional who can explain the law, examine your situation and outline your options.

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