Military members urge for change of military divorce law

Joseph M. Lucas & Associates, L.L.C.

Advocacy groups are facing pressure for the revision of a military divorce law that entitles ex-spouses of U.S. servicemembers to a 50 percent share of retirement pay until death. Many states are drifting away from granting permanent alimony in divorce settlements and are also moving towards exempting part of veterans’ retirement funds. Military members have raised objections to a federal law that permits lifetime alimony to ex-spouses, which does not stop even if the ex-spouse develops a rewarding career or remarries.

The provisions of the 1982 Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act was passed in 1982 by Congress to reverse a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that supported a ban on the division of military retirement pay during divorce settlements. It gives states the authority to consider non-disability military retirement pay as property that can be used in a division settlement in a divorce agreement.

Despite the law’s provisions, it has failed to protect the financial interests of military members who tend to lose half of their retirement pay in a divorce settlement. Opponents of the Act feel that the non-disability military retirement pay should be exempted. Veterans are entitled to full benefits earned over the course of a 20-year military career while facing the hardships of being servicemembers.

People who support the existing law are of the view that ex-spouses should also be entitled to a share of non-disability military retirement pay for their contribution to the country, which often included supporting their spouse’s advancement and relocation, along with child rearing.

Professionals advise that military members should participate in discussions and mediation with partners with whom they are in dispute so as to negotiate a less adversarial divorce settlement. It is also advised that servicemembers should offer a lump sum amount in lieu of half of the retirement benefits that are currently mandated to be paid until death. Veterans can also offer an IRA or 401k in place of alimony.

Illinois is an equitable distribution state, meaning that marital property is distributed equally between spouses in a divorce settlement and property acquired by either spouse over the duration of the marriage is considered marital property. Servicemembers seeking divorce may want to consult a legal professional experienced in divorce mediation to ensure less adversarial divorce proceedings and a fair settlement.

Source: Newsmax, “Military Divorcees Aim to End Lifetime Alimony Rules,” David Yonkman, Feb. 18, 2013

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Military members urge for change of military divorce law