Understanding the Nuances of Military Divorce
All married couples face the possibility of divorce, but the rate of divorce among military personnel, particularly those deployed on active duty, is significantly higher. A report issued in the summer of 2017 indicated that military workers took three of the top ten spots for careers most likely to divorce, which means military personnel and their spouses are generally more in need of information about divorce, given this higher rate of occurrence. Divorce is complicated by the sensitive nature of the issues involved, but divorce among members of the military has additional complexities from special rules that apply exclusively to them. The principal areas in which military divorce diverges from the standard divorce process among civilians is: the division of retirement benefits, the retention of health insurance, and the establishment of a child support obligation. In addition, there are temporary concessions offered to military parents for the modification of time-sharing and child support due to the limited ability to respond and fulfill these obligations because of military orders. However, the concessions are temporary, so the focus of this discussion will be on the elements of military divorce mentioned above (retirement, health insurance, establishing child support) that are more standard.
Typically, a spouse is entitled to a share of the other spouse’s retirement benefits created or accrued during the time of the marriage as a marital asset under equitable distribution, regardless of how long the marriage lasted. However, when one spouse is in the military, dividing retirement benefits is significantly more complicated. Only those spouses married to a service member for at least 10 years, and which overlaps the military spouse’s time of service by at least 10 years, are directly eligible to receive a portion of military retirement benefit. However, for those spouses that do not meet these conditions, the court can still order direct payment of a portion of the military spouse’s benefits he/she would have paid if divided under the normal rules of division for marital assets (usually a 50/50 split). The length of the marriage is commonly the most important factor for the division of military retirement benefits, and three valuation methods are most frequently used:
- net present value – a buyout at the time of the divorce;
- deferred distribution – the spouse’s share is calculated at the time of divorce, but he/she is not entitled to receive anything until the military spouse is eligible to collect benefits; and
- reserved jurisdiction – the court decides each spouse’s share at the time the military spouse retires.
Typically, health insurance benefits offered to a spouse terminate upon divorce, but spouses of those in the military do have the ability to retain this coverage in certain situations. Military personnel who serve at least 20 years receive lifetime health benefits, and spouses have the right to keep these benefits after divorce if the marriage lasted 20 years and the military service overlapped the marriage by at least 20 years. If, on the other hand, the marriage and military service lasted 20 years, but the period of military service only overlapped 15-19 years, the spouse keeps full benefits for a transitional period, and then must pay pursuant to a conversion policy negotiated through the Department of Defense. If neither of these provisions applies, health coverage ends upon divorce, and the spouse can purchase coverage through a continuing benefit program that lasts for 36 months.
Initiating a Child Support Obligation
Finally, unlike civilians, military personnel are required to support family members regardless of the existence of a court order. Soldiers commonly work out paying financial support without the involvement of their commanding officer. However, if the parties cannot agree on a financial arrangement, family members can complain to the commanding officer about the situation, and he/she must then get involved to ensure financial support is paid per military rules.
Contact a Florida Divorce Attorney
No divorce is easy, and the additional complications of military regulations require the services of a divorce attorney familiar with these rules. The attorneys at the Orlando law firm of Goodblatt ∙ Leo understand the different concerns faced by military personnel in divorce, and will create an approach that best achieves your desired result. Contact us at (407) 228-7007 for a consultation.