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Division of military pensions and benefits in divorce

The Pentagon recently released figures showing that 30,000 military marriages ended in 2011. As discussed in a previous blog post, the military divorce rate is currently at an all time high. The divorce rate in the Army is 3.7%. This is now higher than the civilian divorce rate.

These figures are likely not a surprise to military families in California. During military deployments, a soldier is often thousands of miles away from home with a limited ability to communicate with loved ones. The spouse is home alone, and often has little or no support system. For these reasons, the sacrifices that must be made by a military couple are often insurmountable.

If you are facing a military divorce, it is important for you to know that there are a series of state and federal laws that control the divorce process. One of the most commonly asked questions by couples facing a divorce is the division of military pensions and benefits. Both civilian and military retirement benefits are subject to division. Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act, state courts may treat military retirements according to state law.

In addition, if there was at least 10 years of marriage that overlapped with 10 years of military service, payment of the former spouse's share of military retirement is paid directly by DFAS to the former spouse. Despite the length of the marriage, a court may still order direct payment to a military spouse as an offset. Spouses of former military members may also be eligible for full medical, commissary and exchange privileges if certain conditions apply.

These are just a few examples of the complicated issues that can arise in the course of a military divorce. Before entering into divorce proceedings, it is important to understand your rights, especially when dealing with a military divorce.

Source: Fay Observer, "At Christmas, a young military couple understand the meaning of for better or for worse," Greg Barnes, Dec. 25, 2012.

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