Military Divorces

Military Divorces Are Different

While military divorces are no more complicated than civilian divorces, there are special rules and requirements that apply to U.S. service members and their spouses when they divorce. These differences may affect matters of compliance, service of process, residency or filing requirements, and division of military pensions.   Below is an overview of military divorce laws affecting U.S. service men and women who are contemplating or getting a divorce.  

Military Divorce Laws

Military divorce is governed by both state and federal laws. For example, federal laws may affect where divorcing couples end up in court or how military pensions are divided, whereas state laws may affect how alimony and spousal support may be issued.   Active-duty service members are generally protected from divorce proceedings in most cases. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), U.S. service men and women cannot be sued or begin divorce proceedings while on active duty or for 60 days following active duty (at the discretion of the court). This is so military service members may devote their time and energy to defending the Nation.  

Military Pensions and Benefits

Like civilian retirement benefits, military pensions are subject to division between spouses in the event of divorce. 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 does not provide a formula for dividing the amount of retired pay, the amount is generally determined and awarded under the specific state laws.   Further, payment of the former spouse's share of military retirement is paid directly by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to the former spouse if there was at least 10 years of marriage that overlapped with 10 years of military service (known as the ten-year rule). Regardless of the length of marriage, however, a court may still authorize direct payment to a military spouse who has been married for less than 10 years as an offset, except payment would come from the retiring spouse rather than from the DFAS.   In addition to pension benefits, spouses of former military personnel are also eligible for full medical, commissary and exchange privileges when:    

  • The couple was married for 20 years or more.  
  • The service member has performed at least 20 years of creditable service toward retirement pay.  
  • There was at least a 20 year overlap of marriage and military service.  

Spousal and Child Support

The military has special rules concerning spousal maintenance (alimony) and child support. These rules are designed to ensure a service member's family support obligations beyond a divorce or separation.   A court may enforce spousal and child support obligations in a number of ways including by Court-order Garnishment Voluntary or Involuntary Allotment.   A court may also require the providing spouse to maintain life insurance that would cover child or alimony support payments for a specific period.