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How does divorce impact military retirement benefits?

Being involved in a military marriage can be difficult and complex at times. The life of a service member can be straining on a marriage, resulting in some couples in New Mexico and elsewhere opting for divorce. While divorce is not easy for any couple, a military divorce can place added challenges. This is especially true when it comes to addressing the assets, pension and military benefits of the service member spouse.

How does divorce impact military retirement benefits? With regard to a military pension, this is considered a marital asset by law, and often times, this asset is split 50-50 between spouses. Even if the military member spouse is not yet retired, the pension will be split based on the value of the pension when retirement happens.

Whatever the split and division of a pension is determined, this split is considered irrevocable. This means that this settlement will continue until the service member dies. This also means that even if the military member spouse remarries, half of their retirement could be paid to their former spouse, even if it was a short marriage and it ended a long time ago.

Does this seem fair? The new 2017 National Defense Authorization Act has now placed a cap on the amount of a pension that a former spouse can receive. Rather than granting a spouse 50 percent of a military pension that is based on the service member's rank at the time of retirement, the new rule bases the payment on the military member's pay grade and years of service at the time of divorce. Additionally, this is adjusted by cost of living calculations.

The divorce process has many working parts, and with military divorces, determining the distribution of military benefits is one. While some couples can effectively navigate these divorce issues, these complex issues often require the assistance of an attorney. This not only ensures your rights are protected but also that all divorce issues are properly and timely addressed and resolved.

Source:, "Military Divorce Retirement, Pension Rules Change," Amy Bushatz, Dec. 1, 2016

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