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Military divorce and the rights of service members' ex-spouses

Couples in New Mexico are aware that service members of the military go through the same ups and downs any other couple goes through. While separation and divorce are a real possibility when a spouse serves in the military, it is important to understand that the process and steps involved in a military divorce are different than those in a traditional dissolution.

Because the common factors and circumstance caused by a spouse serving in the military can often complicate the normal steps involved in a divorce, specific laws and regulations have been designated for military divorces.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act, or USFSPA, has two purposes. First, it affords the right to the state court to distribute military retired pay to a former spouse. Second, it also provides a method for enforcing the orders made by the court through the Department of Defense.

Divorcing spouses should be aware that the USFSPA does not automatically provide a former spouse with the right to a portion of the retired pay. The court must award a portion of a member's military retired pay, and if these payments are not made, USFSPA provides a method for enforcement. Furthermore, USFSPA also provides a method to enforce other orders such as child support or alimony awarded though the divorce settlement.

Although any type of divorce could involve disputes regarding property division and retirement benefits, a military divorce often includes arguments regarding military benefits and the division of their pension and retirement benefits. Understanding the rights of both spouses in a military divorce is important so they protect their rights and interests and take appropriate action for everyone involved in the situation.

Source:, "The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act," Accessed Dec. 1, 2014

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