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What happens to military pension after divorce?

As a Washington resident involved in a divorce from a military service member, you may have questions about what will happen to your military spouse’s pension and whether you will have any access to it once your divorce finalizes. Military pension often falls among the more substantial assets today’s military couples must divide during a divorce, and while every state in the nation considers military pension as shared property, the guidelines surrounding how to split it are less clear.

In fact, there is no single, one-size-fits-all formula associated with splitting military pension after a marital breakdown, but the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act does provide some additional information that may help you find the answers you seek.

Debunking military pension misconceptions

You may, like many others, be under the impression that you will not receive any portion of your former spouse’s military pension after the divorce unless your marriage lasted at least 10 years. This is not, however, necessarily the case, but there are certain guidelines that exist regarding your ability to receive direct payments from your former military spouse’s retirement pay.

More specifically, to receive direct retirement payments from your former military spouse, your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. At least 10 years of your marriage must have overlapped with your military spouse’s service period when he or she earned retirement pay.

Jurisdiction guidelines

Ultimately, whether a state court will divide a military member's retirement pay depends on whether that state court has jurisdiction over the military member, which can happen in one of three ways. A state court has jurisdiction over a military member if the member’s primary residence (when not on assignment) falls within state lines, or if his or her residence otherwise falls within the territorial jurisdiction of the court. A state court can also have jurisdiction over a member of the military if that military member consents to the jurisdictional arrangement.

Dividing military pension can prove confusing, but because military pension can be such a significant asset, it is important you understand your rights to it, post-divorce.

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