Virginia Divorce Questions: Should I call his command for failure to pay military support?

Posted on Feb 7, 2024 by Katie Carter

On Monday, we talked about military divorce cases where the military service member spouse has committed adultery.   We’ve actually talked kind of a lot about military cases lately.  It can be pretty confusing because the military has all sorts of policies – some of which are binding in the event of a divorce or custody case and some of which are not – that conflict with, supersede, or are completely ineffectual when it comes to a divorce or custody case in Virginia.

Let me give you some examples.

20/20/20 Military Entitlement

Take 20/20/20 for example.  The military provides that, if you were married to an active duty military service member for at least 20 years, the servicemember has at least 20 years of creditable service, and at least 20 of those years overlap, you’re a 20/20/20 spouse.  A 20/20/20 spouse is entitled to lifetime TriCare coverage and, basically, retired military status – you keep access to the exchange and commissary, for example, and a couple of other perks.  The main thing, though, is the lifetime health insurance.  (For the record, there is no such provision, no matter what your employment, in the civilian sector.)

This is a military entitlement; it has nothing at all to do with state law.  There is nothing in Virginia that entitles any former spouse to healthcare coverage after divorce, ever.  The military controls, enforces, and manages this entitlement.  If you qualify, you qualify.  The military will oversee it and get you your benefits.  If you are not entitled to it, you won’t – and there’s nothing I can do, no challenge I can mount in state court, and no objection I can make.  This entitlement is created and enforced by the military.

Military Support Guidelines

Military support, on the other hand, is another issue entirely.  The MILPERSMAN – military personnel manual – has guidelines that provide for child and/or spousal support. 

The thing is, though, that these guidelines are often not enforceable.  Sure, you may be able to get an award of military support – but actually making sure he pays support according to military guidelines is probably less certain.

Should I call his command if I have military support ordered and he’s not paying it?

The risk with calling his command is the same here as it is in cases of adultery.  In all likelihood, you’ll find that his command does nothing with this information.  The military likes to protect its own.  (Though you may have felt you were one of ‘its own’ before, when you and your servicemember spouse separate, that is often no longer still the case.)

If, though, his command DOES do something with this information, the consequences may hurt you more.  It’s possible, depending on the circumstances, that he could be discharged, demoted, or just not promoted (or promoted much more slowly).  In any event, if he ends up earning less money (or losing it all), that means he’ll have less to pay you in terms of your child and/or spousal support entitlements and even, potentially, his retirement!

The best revenge is not to get the military to do something but, instead, to get every single penny that you are entitled to receive so that you can make your next chapter the best ever.

What happens concerning child support and spousal support in Virginia courts?

The military support guidelines are just that – guidelines.  They are simply suggestions and they are not binding on the Virginia courts.  Virginia has specific statutes relating to child and spousal support; the military guidelines conflict with these.

A judge in Virginia will not enforce support according to the military support guidelines; she will instead order support according to Virginia guidelines.

In a way, it’s fair to say that military support guidelines aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on because, wherever you live, you’ll have to go to an actual state court to enforce child and spousal support, and every state has its own laws related to child and spousal support that it follows.

Why can the military enforce 20/20/20 but not child and spousal support?

These policies are actually pretty different.  In the case of child and spousal support, the state – every state, not just Virginia – has its own laws.  The military policies contract these, so the state guidelines win.

There is no state-specific provision for 20/20/20 coverage or anything like it.  It’s just a benefit – like the pension – that the military essentially sponsors and oversees.  It can make anything it wants policy and enforce it itself, but you don’t have a state-level entitlement to any similar benefit.

There are lots of misleading things about military service and your entitlements as a dependent spouse in divorce.  The 10 year myth is one that I still can’t believe that I hear all the time, and many people are confused about how the new blended retirement system works.

The best I can say is that its always good to get up to date, Virginia-specific advice (if that’s where you’re currently stationed) related to divorce here.  Our free military divorce book is a great place to start.  For more information or to schedule a consultation, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.