When a service member gets divorced, any future retirement pay is viewed as a "marital asset" - just as if you had actual cash in an actual bank account. While exactly how that asset is divided is up to individual states and courts, it is often divided 50-50 thanks to a law known as the "Former Spouses Protection Act."
I get a lot of emails through Military.com's Question and Benefits email address about this problem. It's not fair, service members say, that their long-divorced spouses get to cash in on their pensions now that they are out, even if they divorced long before retirement. I also get emails from second wives who don't understand why someone who divorced their husband 15 years ago is receiving up to half of his pension.
Now that could be about to change.
The law change, which is a part of the annual Defense spending bill still being hammered out between the House and Senate, would make a major change to the retirement-splitting rules. Instead of dividing the pension based on whatever it is when he or she retires, it would require payments to be based on the rank of the service member at the time of divorce.
So, for example, right now if you divorce your service member, and he retires in another 15 years as a 0-9, what you receive in the divorce settlement will be based on his 0-9 grade. But let's say at the time of your divorce he is a Major. Under the proposal, the amount of his 0-9 retirement pay you receive will be capped at the rank and years in service at the time of the divorce, not at the time of retirement.
According to this story, that proposal makes a lot of sense to a lot of people. Why would a spouse receive retirement pay for a period of time he or she was not married to the service member?
It also could be more equitable to the future spouse -- allowing them to have more retirement cash to live off, too.
It's worth noting that the pension payout lasts only as long as the service member is alive. When he or she dies, that benefit ends regardless of who is receiving portions of it.
Whether or not the proposal actually makes it into the final version of the bill remains to be seen. We'll keep you updated.