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Why military divorces are unique

Divorce happens to people in a wide range of professions, including those in the military. While divorces in general are governed by applicable state laws, there are additional factors involved when the divorce is between a member of the military and their spouse.

If one member of a divorcing couple is on active duty or permanently stationed abroad, that might slow down the process. However, some states have accommodated this by relaxing residency requirements for active duty service personnel. This lets the service members file for divorce where they are stationed.

Military couples who are about to divorce should become very familiar with the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act, or USFSPA. The law is a federal statute that guides the military in regard to divorce. It encourages the military to accept state statutes on a variety of issues, ranging from spousal support to child support to how military retirement pay and pensions are to be treated.

Regarding military retirement pay, the USFSPA lets it be classified as property instead of income. That can have major implications for division of marital assets in a divorce.

Ex-spouses of military members may find that they are eligible for direct retirement payments. If so, those will be made by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. For this to happen, 10 years of the marriage must have overlapped with 10 years of service in the military. Of course, different states count the length of time married differently, so you need to know the regulations for the state in which you pursue the divorce.

All in all, the regulations that pertain to military divorce are complex. Military couples planning to divorce would do well to seek experienced legal guidance.

Source: Military.com, "Understanding Divorce in the Military," USAA, accessed July 13, 2015

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