How does military retirement work in my Virginia divorce?

When it comes to military retirement, there are a lot of misconceptions. Some of it, I think, it propagated by the husbands themselves, who want their wives to think that they are entitled to nothing, or else way less than what they are actually entitled to receive. Some of it happens because the military doesn’t make this information readily available, so it can be hard for the non-military spouse to really get informed. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that most of the women I see are either uninformed or misinformed about how military retirement works, and what exactly they will be entitled to after divorce.

How is my interest in his retirement calculated?

Your entitlement to his retirement is calculated by how many years you were married during his employment.

Scenario one: If you were married in 1985, he joined in 1986, retired after 20 years in 2006, and now, in 2014, you’re separated and contemplating divorce, all of his retirement is a marital asset because you were married when he earned it all.

Scenario two: If you were married in 1985, but he joined in 1980, and then retired after 20 years in 2000, you only have a marital interest in 15 years of his retirement, because he was already earning retirement prior to your marriage, even though you may have stayed married until 2014.

Basically, you have an interest in half of the retirement that he earned while you were together, but no interest in the retirement he earned prior to your marriage, or anything that he will earn in the future after your divorce. You continue to have a right to any retirement he earns during separation until your final divorce decree is entered.

What’s a 20-20-20 spouse?

A 20-20-20 spouse is one who was married for at least twenty years to a husband that served in the military for at least 20 years, and those 20 years overlap.

In Scenario One, as discussed above, you ARE a 20-20-20 spouse. In Scenario Two, you’re not, because, although you were married for 20 years and he served in the military for 20 years, those 20 years didn’t overlap. Only 15 overlapped, so you’re a 20-20-15 spouse. More on this in a minute.

After divorce, a 20-20-20 spouse keeps military benefits. You retain access to the commissary, exchange, and MWR, and also to military healthcare. You’ll receive your share of your husband’s pension directly from DFAS.

What’s a 20-20-15 spouse?

A 20-20-15 spouse is one who was married for at least 20 years to a husband who served at least 20 years, and at least 15 of those years overlap.

A 20-20-15 spouse loses rights to access the exchange, commissary, or MWR, but retains access to military healthcare for one year from the date of the entry of the final divorce decree. After that one year period has expired, the spouse receives no further benefit from the military.

What’s the 10 year rule?

The ten year rule is a myth, but it’s probably one that you’ve heard. Basically the ten year “rule” is that, if you haven’t been married for ten years, you don’t qualify to receive any of your military husband’s retirement. That’s just not true! Even if you were only married a year (or six months, or even less), you have an interest in your husband’s retirement, even though it may be very, very small. I mean, think about it. If you were only married for one year in his 20 year military career, your interest in his retirement is one half of one year, and he has a separate interest in the other 19 years, plus his marital share of one half of that first year.

You receive the same as everyone else, regardless of the length of your marriage. You have a one half interest in his retirement for all the years during your marriage that your husband worked in the job that earned the retirement. The years must overlap in order to be considered a marital asset. You do not have an interest in anything he earned prior to your marriage or after your divorce.

So, does it matter if your marriage was less than ten years? Actually, yes, but not because you don’t have an interest in his retirement like so many people seem to think. After ten years of marriage (and ten years of overlapping military service), you are entitled to receive your share of your husband’s retirement in a check directly from DFAS. If you get divorced before you’ve been married ten years, you’ll have to receive your share directly from your husband, which is a little less convenient.

Lots of military husbands will tell their wives all sorts of tall tales about how military retirement works, and what they can expect to get. Don’t listen to him, and make sure you don’t sign ANYTHING without having it reviewed by an attorney first! For help from attorneys who are experienced in handling military divorces, call our office at (757) 425-5200, or request a copy of our free book, “What Every Virginia Military Wife Should Know About Divorce.

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