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How disposable retired pay is treated in a military divorce

The federal government has long provided members of our nation's armed forces with a host of valuable benefits in recognition of their service and their sacrifice, including health care, access to education and, of course, a generous retirement benefits.

Interestingly enough, this disposable retired pay, meaning the monthly payments provided to retired service members minus such factors as disability pay or federal loan repayments, was long considered off limits to civilian spouses in the event of a military divorce.

While this might not seem like much cause for concern on the surface, consider the inequity that would have resulted when a long-married civilian spouse, who perhaps sacrificed his or her own career for the benefit of the service member, was denied access to the financial protection provided by disposable retired pay.

For its part, Congress considered this inequity and, in response, passed the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act -- otherwise known as the USFSPA -- back in 1982.

At its core, the USFSPA dictates that the individual states can treat the disposable retired pay of service members as martial property in a divorce, meaning it's subject to the property division process.

There is really no uniform process for the division of disposable retired pay. Rather all of the states approach it differently, such that one state's laws could permit a court to award a majority of it to a longtime spouse, while another state's laws could permit it to be split evenly despite the fact that the couple was only married for a short time.

It's important to note, however, that many of the states have adopted a formula whereby the retirement pay is to be split based on the number of years the couple was married during the course of the service member's career divided by his or her total amount of time in uniform.

We'll continue our discussion of this complex topic in future posts ...

In the meantime, if you are a service member or civilian spouse with questions about pursuing a military divorce or a related issue, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional.

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