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Military divorce ruling may affect shares of retirement pay

Marriage with a member of the U.S. military is not always easy. Whether your spouse was active when you met or joined after you married, you have likely paid a high price that may have taken its toll on you. No matter the particular reasons, the decision to end your marriage was likely a difficult one, especially if you have children.

Now that you are considering divorce, you probably have many concerns about recent changes in the benefits for civilian spouses after a military divorce. While each state interprets military divorce laws differently, the U.S. Supreme Court did send down a ruling that could be a game changer in many cases.

Supreme Court decision

Previously, civilian spouses of service members were entitled to up to half of the military retirement pay no matter how long or short their marriages. However, if the service member applied for disability pay, state laws often required him or her to waive that amount from the military retirement.

This meant that some civilian ex-spouses took reductions in their shares of the retirement pay. States often required the service members to compensate their ex-spouses out of their disability pay for the differences in the waived retirement benefits. The recent Supreme Court decision made the following ruling:

  • State divorce courts must protect your military spouse's disability pay.
  • The share of his or her military retirement pay awarded to you is subject to reduction if your military spouse accepts disability.
  • Whether your military spouse waives part of his or her retirement during the divorce or years after makes no difference.
  • Family courts may take this potential reduction into account when they determine asset division and spousal support during your divorce proceedings.

Whether states will begin hearing petitions to amend divorce settlements in light of this ruling is unclear. However, going forward, states will have to abide by the Supreme Court decision. This means you will undoubtedly want to do some strategic planning to ensure you have financial security after your divorce.

What does this mean for you?

While your spouse may wear the uniform, you have done your share of sacrificing during your marriage. You may have given up a career, left behind family and raised the children alone during your spouse's long deployments. Now that your marriage is ending, you certainly want to be sure you receive a fair settlement to be able to sustain yourself and your children in the future.

The laws are changing to protect service members, but there are still benefits in place for you as a former military spouse. Having an attorney to advocate for you is the best way to seek those benefits. An attorney with experience and knowledge in military divorce will know how to represent your unique situation and will work to obtain the best possible settlement for you.

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