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Dividing a military pension during divorce

For thousands, even millions, of couples throughout the United States, a military pension is the largest asset they own. And depending on the rank of the military spouse and the years spent in service, the military benefits can be fairly extensive. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, the military pension of an Air Force lieutenant colonel is worth $72,288 a year.

Military pensions are unlike other private and public retirement benefits. First, military pensions do not have a minimum age limit (it is possible for those in the military to retire in their 30s) and can extend over decades. Second, the way that pensions are divided during a military divorce is unique.

Generally, a former spouse can receive up to one-half of the military pension attributable to the years of marriage. For example, if you were in the service for 15 years and married for 10 of those years, your spouse may receive up to one-half of the military pension that accrued during the 10 years you were married. He or she is not entitled to a portion of the pension that accrued the other five years.

Asking a court to award a portion of military benefits is one thing; collecting them after a divorce is quite another. Both state and federal law have a say in how military pensions are apportioned after divorce. Under federal law, the government will only send military benefits directly to the ex-spouse if the couple was married for ten years during which the military spouse was in service.

In other cases, the ex-spouse must ask a court in the state in which the military spouse resides to order the ex-spouse to pay the benefits to him or her. The nonmilitary spouse may also ask the divorce court to include the military benefits as part of a permanent spousal maintenance (alimony) order.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Divorce: Splitting Up a Rich Military Pension," Ellen E. Schultz, Mar. 9, 2012.

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