Deciding how to split up a couple’s accumulated assets is a challenging but necessary task before any divorce can be finalized. This already tough job can be made even more complicated if one or both spouses is an active duty or retired member of the military. In such situations, one of the couple’s biggest assets is almost always the military spouse’s pension. This pension, and all the rules that come along with it, make military divorces generally more complex than those of nonmilitary families.
Military pensions are often worth significant amounts of money and, as an added bonus, are guaranteed for the rest of the military spouse’s life. The Wall Street Journal says that a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force who has put in 30 years of service will receive a pension worth $72,288 a year. The pensions are not paid in lump sums, but if they were, the present value of the pension would easily exceed $1 million. What makes this even more valuable is that there is no minimum retirement age. It’s in the realm of possibility that someone who enlisted at 18 could retire at 38 and go on to receive a pension, including yearly cost of living increases, for decades into the future.
The state in which a spouse files the divorce petition can be one challenging aspect of the division of a military retirement pension. This can be tricky because, while a service member may be stationed at a base in North Carolina, they may have a permanent residence in another state. It’s also possible that an estranged nonmilitary spouse or ex-spouse could reside in yet another third state. Depending on the state, the nonmilitary spouse could lose out on the retirement benefits if certain forms are not filled out correctly.
The length of the marriage is another factor that can contribute to the difficulty of dividing up the military retirement pension. When the marriage overlaps the military spouse’s service period by 10 or more years, the nonmilitary spouse will receive benefit payments directly from the government. If the marriage lasted fewer than 10 years of the service period, then the government will not enforce a court order from the nonmilitary spouse for a share of the retirement pension. In such cases, if the military spouse does not agree to provide a share of the retirement benefits directly to the nonmilitary spouse, then the matter will have to be settled in a divorce court in the appropriate state.
Military retirement pensions are also governed by a complex system of both state and federal rules. Therefore, even when a nonmilitary spouse gets court ordered retirement benefits, state and federal rules can still make collecting those benefits a challenge.
If you find yourself facing the prospect of divorce in Charlotte, contact the experienced military divorce lawyers in Charlotte, North Carolina at Arnold & Smith, PLLC who can help guide you through the sometimes-confusing process.
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