As military personnel or a military spouse, you know how different life is compared with civilian families and you know about rules and regulations. Just the idea of a “military divorce” might make you dizzy. Aside from the emotional strain, there must an impossible legal and regulatory maze navigate.
The good news, if you want to call it that, is that military service has been hard on marriages for thousands of years, so states and the federal government have learned their lessons. The laws enacted specifically to serve you and your family are complex, but their effect is to make this transition succeed as well and as simply as possible.
Answering questions before you even ask them
Divorce generally belongs to the states, so Massachusetts courts decide most divorce issues for Bay Staters. The military leaves things to the states where possible, but the military lifestyle often stretches state laws to the breaking point, requiring a special web of exceptions familiar to attorneys experienced in military divorce law.
For example, state residency requirements often don’t fit military personnel who may not stay in one state (or even country) for long. So, there’s a method for allowing couples to choose their jurisdiction.
Also, if a member of the military is overseas or otherwise unable to appear in a Massachusetts court, they can apply for a temporary halt to divorce proceedings until they’re able to show up in the Commonwealth.
Splitting retirement accounts using the 10/10 rule
Civilian divorces often face the problem of splitting employer-sponsored pensions or other retirement savings, many carrying penalties for early withdrawal and other obstacles. Federal laws allow courts to intervene and implement a separation agreement without penalty.
Similarly, the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act ( HYPERLINK “https://www.dfas.mil/garnishment/usfspa/legal.html” USFSPA) recognizes a state’s authority to decide how much of a military member’s retirement pay will go to the former spouse. It then authorizes that amount to be paid directly to the former spouse from DFAS, the military’s paymaster.
The law only applies to former spouses who were married for 10 or more years to servicemembers who served for 10 or more years (hence the name “10/10 rule”).
Note that USFSPA doesn’t “entitle” a military ex-spouse to any pay. It specifies no lower limit, but it does specify certain upper limits according to various provisions of the law.