Although there is some overlap between military divorces and civilian divorces, the differences between them are distinct, and fall under the scope of matters regarding compliance with support payments, methods of service/process, residency, and relating filing requirements, or the division of military pensions. Jurisdiction is decided on by different rules as well; while the state the party resides in has jurisdiction in civilian cases, jurisdiction may be the place where the person holds legal residence, even if the service member is stationed somewhere else when it comes to a military divorce. However, most states will allow service members or their spouses to file for divorce, in the state in which they are stationed, regardless of whether or not they are legal residents of that state.
Similar to civilian retirement benefits, military pensions are subject to division, sometimes via equitable distribution, between spouses in a divorce proceeding. Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA):
“State courts may treat military retirement pay as either sole or community property depending on the state.“
While the USFSPA doesn’t provide a formula for dividing the amount of retired pay, the amount is generally determined and awarded under the specific state laws. In addition, payment of the former spouse’s portion of the military retirement is paid straightaway by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to the former spouse, only if there were at least 10 years of marriage that overlapped with 10 years of military service (known as the 10/10 rule).
In addition to military pension benefits, spouses of former military are also eligible to obtain full medical benefits, and exchange privileges after a military divorce, under the following scenarios:
- The couple was married for 20 years or more;
- The service member has performed at least 20 years of creditable service to retirement pay; and
- There was at least a 20-year overlap of marriage and military service.
With regard to spousal and child support, the military is focused on ensuring a service member’s family support obligations after the divorce. A court also may require the providing spouse to maintain life insurance that would cover child or alimony support payments for an allotted period of time.