Paycheck Chronicles

From The Mailbag: Retirement and Divorce


A reader wrote in asking about the division of military retirement in a divorce.  I have edited this email to remove personally identifying information and to make it more clear, but the gist is definitely still there:

I am a MSG who will be retiring this year with 20 years of service.  I was married for 17 years and have now been divorced for five years.   My divorce decree does not say what amount of my retirement she is to receive.   How is the formula calculated?  J

The writer is talking about the fact that courts are entitled to divide retirement pay when dividing other marital assets in a divorce.  In this situation, the divorce decree does not designate any portion of retirement pay to be paid to the former spouse.  The law states that the division of military retirement pay must be designated at the time of divorce, and it can not be renegotiated later.

This is a frustrating point for many divorced service members and their former spouses.  In most situations, it is the former spouse who later realizes that they could have fought for a portion of the retirement assets  However, former spouses also sometimes discover that the division of retirement pay isn't always as rosy as it appears, and they would have preferred some other division of assets.  At the same time, it can be the retired service member who discovers that they agreed to divide pay when they didn't mean to, or that they would have rather divided retirement pay than given other concessions.

This reader question emphasizes the importance of having divorces handled by competent attorneys who thoroughly understand all the many nuances of military benefits and how they can be divided and impacted by a variety of different variables.  There is no single right or best way to divide assets when a marriage dissolves, and it takes compromise and understanding to come up with a settlement that is equitable and appropriate for the situation.

As for our reader, J, he will not have his retirement pay divided because it is not designated in the divorce paperwork.

If you are divorcing, and a military retirement is in your future, be sure to consider this subject carefully.  It's a big issue and you only get one chance to get it right.

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