The assets and benefits available to service members are different than those available to non-members. They are also governed by different and restrictive rules. One must know the member’s history, rank, status, etc. in order to accurately determine his/her available income and benefits. Even once these items are known, the military has specific rules handling benefits for an ex-spouse at divorce. A spouse’s entitlement to current or continuing military benefits depends in part on the length of the marriage and duration of the member’s service. In general:
- 20/20 rule: ex-spouses married to service members for at least 20 years which overlap the member’s 20 years of military service are eligible for full benefits, including lifetime PX and medical benefits.
- 20/15 rule: ex-spouses married to service members for 15 years which overlap the member’s 20 years of service are eligible for limited benefits, including one year only of medical insurance continuation
- 20/20/10 rule: in cases of documented domestic abuse, grants full benefits to ex-spouses married to service members for at least 20 years which do not overlap the member’s 20 years of service.
Complicating matters further, the “10-10” rule allows military retired pay to be divided between spouses, but prevents the ex-spouse from receiving payments directly from the military unless he/she was married to the service member for 10 years during 10 years of active duty.
Military benefits are far too important to be treated with a cookie-cutter approach. In any divorce involving a service member, the following issues must be explored:
- method of payment
- characterization of the payment as property or spousal support
- child support orders,
- survivor benefits
- interplay between military and civilian benefits (some members may receive both)
- combat pay,
- disability pay/VA waiver (and related reduction in retired pay)
- cost of living adjustments,
- limits on transfer of military pay to ex-spouses
- voluntary allotments
- execution of proper forms to commence and confirm benefits
- medical and dental insurance for ex-spouse and child
Even if the spouses agree on the allocation and continuation of military benefits, their wishes may not be enforced if the court and military forms are not properly completed. The proper allocation of military benefits requires attention to detail.
The court must also be alerted in all cases involving a service member. If the member is unavailable to participate in the divorce, he/she can receive a stay of the proceedings and obtain a limited appointment of legal counsel.
We have represented many service members and spouses in divorce. Our experience and knowledge of the various options and limits will help guide you through the process and ensure that you receive your fair share of benefits.