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How Military Benefits Are Split In Divorce

Joining the Armed Forces is a great way to serve your country, but it’s not easy on your relationships. Your marriage is no different. Whether you’re on active service, a reservist, or part of the National Guard, the requirements of the military can strain and even break your relationship with your partner.

If that’s the case, then you need to understand how to navigate military divorces. While many elements of the process are the same as civilian marriages, there are some unique considerations. Here’s what you need to know about military separations, the things you need to consider, and what to expect.

Why Military Divorces Are Different

Enlisting with the Armed Forces offers you unique benefits, like the GI bill, healthcare, and pensions. It also demands much more from you than any other career. Few other employers will ask you to live in their provided housing and move on their command, after all. It’s those benefits and demands that make these divorces complicated. When you’re splitting from your spouse, courts need to take all these elements into consideration when making decisions about:

Child Support and Custody

First, if your marriage involves children, then your divorce will include a child custody agreement and probably a child support order. For couples who are connected to the military, that can get complicated. After all, active duty servicemen, National Guards, and reservists are subject to deployment. Without an excellent argument, judges may see the parent in the military as an unsuitable candidate for child custody.

That’s hard for parents who remain in the military. Their duty to their country can lose them the right to see their children. It can also force them to pay significant child support, especially if their non-military spouse sacrificed their career to move from base to base.

Spousal Support

Spousal support, or alimony, is another common concern in military separations. Many spouses of servicemen work part-time or not at all to take care of the house while their partner is away. That often leads to judges awarding the non-military spouse significant alimony payments.

On the other hand, if a partner did continue to work, they may not be eligible for alimony at all. That doesn’t mean that they won’t receive anything from their spouse, however.


One of the significant benefits of joining the military is the promise of a pension post-retirement. Service members who spend at least two decades in active service receive a lifelong pension. According to the 1982 Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA), that pension is considered marital property.

That means that anyone who’s married to an active service member may be eligible to receive a portion of their pension post-divorce. For marriages that last at least ten years, the civilian partner is entitled to half of the pension, which can significantly affect the service member’s ability to retire comfortably.

However, the pension doesn’t have to be divided equally. While the civilian spouse can claim their half if they want, the couple can also negotiate to find a split that both partners find fair. Some couples choose to leave the pension in the military spouse’s name in exchange for granting the civilian partner full ownership of real estate or retirement accounts. Others agree to divide the pension and all assets fairly.

Division of Benefits

Finally, there are plenty of non-pension benefits that married service members can receive. These benefits can also be split in the divorce. Many people divide things like Service Members Group Life Insurance policies, for example.

Furthermore, post-divorce, spouses can retain the rights to specific insurance policies and even college benefits. However, these are considered statutory entitlements, which means that they aren’t eligible for negotiation during the divorce.

Dividing Rights and Benefits in a Military Divorce

Outside of the general decisions involved in your separation, your actual military status will also affect the outcome. Courts will approach splits involving an active service member differently from one involving a retired service member. They’ll also treat a dual-service divorce differently from a separation between a service member and a civilian. Here’s how these divorces can vary.

One Active Service Member

Any split that involves an active duty service member is going to involve some complications. Simply filing for divorce can be complicated because of state residency laws. However, spouses can file for divorce in the state where the enlisted person claims legal residency even if they are currently stationed elsewhere.

Active service members will need to fight for their right to child custody in many cases. They will also need to work with an experienced attorney to avoid burdensome spousal support payments and the loss of a future pension.

One Retired Service Member

Retired service members are less likely to have to fight for child custody since they are no longer at risk of deployment. Depending on their choice of post-service activity, they may even be eligible for spousal support instead of having to pay it. However, they are also more likely to have a pension that their partner may fight to claim.

Two Service Members

If a divorce involves two enlisted people, then things become more straightforward. Both partners already have their own benefits, after all. Furthermore, it’s unlikely that a judge will require one partner to pay the other spousal support since they are likely making similar amounts. However, if one partner is of significantly higher rank or receives a pension and the other doesn’t, support and pensions will still need to be divided.


Every divorce is stressful. A military divorce can be even worse because of the extra things you need to consider. When you’re already living through the stress of enlistment, you don’t need to face legal hassles, too. That’s why you should reach out to an experienced divorce attorney when you think about separation.

The right attorney can help you work through all the complications of divorcing when you have military benefits. Whether you’re currently enlisted, retired, or married to someone in the Armed Forces, you still deserve a smooth split. Take the first step toward your new life today and get in touch.