Military Divorce Spousal Benefits
By Beverly Bird
Unlike most spouses, those married to members of the United States military have the federal government in their corner if they divorce. The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act provides them with certain immutable benefits. This is both good and bad. The rules are ironclad, so divorce courts can’t deny you these benefits. But a sympathetic judge can’t do much to override them, either, and give you more than the USFSPA provides.
Military spouses enjoy certain base privileges, accessible through a military ID card. This card entitles you to commissary and exchange benefits, and they are not always revocable if you divorce. If you’re married to a service member, he cannot take your ID card from you when you break up. Terms of its revocation are covered by the USFSPA. If you were married for at least 20 years and your spouse served in the military during 20 of the years of your marriage, you can retain these privileges until you remarry. A subsequent divorce or the death of your second spouse reinstates them.
You can also keep your military health insurance benefits after divorce if you were married for 20 years and your spouse served during those years. However, if you remarry, you lose the insurance, and a divorce or the death of your spouse does not reinstate it. You're only eligible for standard coverage, not prime coverage, and you also lose the insurance if your employer covers you on another policy at no cost to you. If the overlap between your marriage and your spouse’s military service was 15 to 20 years, you can retain your health benefits for one year after your divorce. The federal government offers a version of COBRA for extended coverage after that time, which you can buy into.
The USFSPA allows individual states to make their own rulings regarding your share of your spouse’s military retirement pay. Although community property states cannot automatically divide military retirement benefits 50/50 as a community property asset, states do have the option of treating retirement pay as marital property. This means that divorced non-member spouses are invariably entitled to a share. Your state’s law or a marital settlement agreement with your spouse determines the percentage of your portion.
The federal government restricts housing benefits to a service member and his family. While your divorce is pending, if you and your spouse want to continue living together for practical reasons, you can do so. However, once your divorce is final, you lose the benefit of this housing and must relocate.
Beverly Bird has been writing professionally since 1983. She is the author of several novels including the bestselling "Comes the Rain" and "With Every Breath." Bird also has extensive experience as a paralegal, primarily in the areas of divorce and family law, bankruptcy and estate law. She covers many legal topics in her articles.