Understanding the Process of Splitting Military Retirement in a Divorce

Splitting military retirement in a divorce

Divorce can be a complex and emotionally challenging process, especially when it involves dividing assets and determining financial support. When one or both spouses are military members, the division of military retirement benefits becomes an important consideration. In this blog, we will explore the process of splitting military retirement in a divorce, focusing on the specific guidelines and considerations within the state of Colorado.

Consulting with an experienced family law attorney who specializes in military divorce is essential when navigating these complexities. At Kanthaka Group, we provide guidance, ensure your rights are protected, and help you achieve a fair and equitable division of military retirement benefits in accordance with the law.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act 

The USFSPA is a federal law that provides guidelines for the division of military retirement benefits in divorce cases. In Colorado, the USFSPA allows state courts to treat military retirement pay as marital property subject to division during a divorce. This means that military retirement benefits are considered part of the marital estate and can be divided between the service member and the non-military spouse.

Under Colorado law, the court follows the principle of equitable distribution when dividing marital property, including military retirement benefits. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean an equal 50/50 split, but rather a fair and just division based on various factors:

  • The length of the marriage overlapping with the service member’s military service
  • The financial contributions of each spouse during the marriage
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse after the divorce

It is important to note that the USFSPA does not automatically entitle a former spouse to a specific percentage or share of the military retirement benefits.

The 10-Year Rule 

In Colorado, the 10-year rule refers to the requirement that the marriage between the service member and the non-military spouse must have overlapped with the service member’s military service for a minimum of 10 years for the non-military spouse to be eligible to receive direct retirement payments from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).

If the marriage satisfies the 10-year rule, the non-military spouse may be eligible to receive their portion of the retirement benefits directly from the DFAS, which can provide a more secure and efficient method of receiving the allocated funds. This direct payment option ensures that the non-military spouse receives their share of the retirement benefits even if the service member retires later or elects to defer the receipt of their retirement pay.

However, it is important to note that if the marriage does not meet the 10-year rule requirement, the non-military spouse may still be eligible to receive their portion of the retirement benefits, but it would be the responsibility of the non-military spouse to collect their share directly from the service member. This can add complexity to the process and potentially create challenges in enforcing the division of the retirement benefits.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order 

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is typically required to divide military retirement benefits, in Colorado. A QDRO is a court order that outlines the specifics of the division: 

  • The percentage or amount awarded
  • The duration of the payments
  • Any survivor benefits 

It provides instructions to the military pay center on how to allocate the retirement benefits between the service member and the former spouse.

Survivor Benefit Plan

The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) is an additional consideration in military divorces. The SBP allows the retired service member to provide continued benefits to the former spouse after their death. It is important to address the SBP during the divorce process, as decisions regarding coverage and cost-sharing should be made to ensure the financial security of the non-military spouse.

Seeking Professional Guidance 

Divorcing couples with military retirement benefits must navigate specific guidelines and considerations when dividing these assets. Understanding the USFSPA, eligibility criteria, calculation methods, court orders, and the role of the SBP is crucial to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of military retirement benefits. If you’re facing a military divorce, seeking the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney is essential to protect your rights and secure a favorable outcome. For thoughtful and informed legal guidance, contact our Colorado Springs military lawyers for an initial consultation.