Military divorce benefits under the USFSPA

Divorce plays out differently in the military. The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act sheds light on some important family law issues.

When a service member and his or her military spouse end their marriage, many questions may arise. For example, how does dissolution affect a military spouse's access to a service member's retired pay? Alternatively, how does divorce influence one's health insurance benefits? These questions are applicable and relevant within the context of a military divorce. Fortunately, the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) helps address some of these concerns.

Retired pay

In terms of a divorce settlement, the act does not provide a military spouse with the automatic right to a service member's retired pay. Instead, the law looks to state laws and treats military retired pay as property from the marriage. As a result, such money is divided pursuant to jurisdictional property division laws. In other words, a former military spouse is generally awarded a division of a member's military retired pay, which is treated as marital property in the final dissolution order. In New Jersey, marital property is divided via the equitable distribution method.

Depending on the specific jurisdiction, retired pay may also be used to fulfill alimony and child support payments. In order to qualify under the USFSPA, a former military husband or wife must have been married to the service member for at least a decade, during which period the enlisted person performed at least 10 years of service.

Health care, commissary and exchange benefits

After a divorce, former military spouses may also continue to receive commissary, health and exchange benefits under the USFSPA. However, to qualify for such, a former military husband or wife must establish the following:

  • The service member served two decades or more in the armed forces
  • The marital relationship lasted at least two decades
  • The marital period overlapped the service period by at least two decades

If all prerequisites are met, a former spouse will be entitled to exchange, commissary and health care benefits. However, those who do not meet all three of these necessities will not benefit from exchange and commissary assistance.

In circumstances wherein a military person completed two decades of service; the marriage endured 20 years; and the relationship overlapped the period of enlistment by 15 years, the military spouse will still be eligible for full medical benefits for one complete year following the divorce. After one year, the person may pursue a DOD-negotiated conversion health policy. However, the former spouse cannot remarry in order to qualify for full coverage.

If a military spouse does not fulfill any of these eligibility standards, he or she will not be entitled to retirement pay or the aforementioned benefits after divorce. However, he or she may still qualify for DOD Continued Health Care Benefit Program for a period of three years.

As one can see, family law issues in the military context are unique from those in a traditional, civilian divorce. Fortunately, the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act provides guidance and support for former spouses of those in the armed forces.

If you are interested in resolving your personal family law matter, it helps to meet with a legal professional. An attorney versed in military law can help sort your concerns regarding divorce, property division, child custody and visitation, alimony and other military family law issues.

Keywords: benefits, divorce, military, USFSP