Some people join the military and only serve for the minimum amount of time necessary. Others make their service a lifelong profession. Servicemembers and their dependent family members have access to robust benefits programs, including medical insurance and pension benefits. These supports are invaluable to servicemembers and their immediate family during training and deployment, but they can create unique challenges when a military marriage ends.
If you have made a career of your service – or a career of supporting a servicemember on the home front – and now find yourself considering divorce, you naturally will worry about how the end of your marriage could affect your military pension. Will you have to divide your pension with your spouse in your upcoming divorce?
Many servicemembers split their pensions
Occasionally, couples get married with prenuptial or postnuptial agreements already in place. If you signed a contract with your spouse officially establishing your retirement account as your separate property, you won’t have to worry about your spouse attempting to lay claim to it in a divorce.
However, under community property laws in Washington, pensions and retirement savings are often subject to division. Spouses typically have to split the value of their marital assets 50/50, which often means dividing at least someone of a servicemember’s pension. Sometimes, the servicemember will need to accept an uneven property division arrangement because of future pension benefits. Other times, they may need to make direct payments to their spouse when the pension manifests.
Military rules do allow for a straightforward pension-sharing system if the couple meets certain standards. Provided that you and your spouse remained married for at least 10 years and you had 10 years of eligible military service during the marriage, the dependent spouse can receive direct pension benefits from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) rather than waiting for payments to come from the servicemember after they receive their payments.
Is preserving a pension a top priority?
Those contemplating divorce need to understand the property division rules that will apply in their case and what options they have for reaching their goals. If a pension is your biggest concern, there are means of protecting this crucial financial resource, possibly by making concessions in other aspects of property division.
Discussing your concerns about an upcoming military divorce with a professional can help you enact a strategy to achieve your main goals while achieving an arrangement that is fair to both parties.