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Military: How Will It Affect My Divorce?

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Being a member of the military, or a military spouse can greatly affect your divorce, especially if there is a potential for military retirement.  There are many aspects to every divorce case, and it is important to recognize that every case is different. 

In Colorado, the parties to a divorce (you and your spouse) are required to provide full financial disclosure to one another, which means that you need to tell your spouse about all of your assets and all of your debts, even if they are joint.  I've noticed on a number of occasions though that military members and spouses do not always know about or remember to include all of their military benefits in their disclosures.  Important items to include are: 

 

  1. Leave and Earnings Statement (LES):  This shows your base pay, BAH, BAS, bonuses, combat pay, etc.  Nearly all of the allowances and bonuses are included when calculating child support, so it is important to have an accurate accounting of what is actually being received by the service member.  The LES also shows the amount of SGLI coverage and the amount of the pay that is being diverted into TSP.
  2. Military Retirement Statement:  If a service member has already retired, then it is important to have a copy of the military retirement statement.  Generally, the retiree will only receive these statements quarterly, unless there is a change in the amount received.  .  This shows the amount received monthly by the retiree.  It will also show if the retiree has enrolled in and is paying for the Spouse Benefit Protection (SBP).  Generally, a divorcing spouse is entitled to receive a percentage of the military retirement, if the marriage overlapped with the retiree?s time in service.  The percentage that the former spouse is entitled to will differ depending on the total number of months that the retiree had in the service, and the total number of months of the marriage that overlapped with that service. 
  3. Spouse Benefit Protection vs. Life Insurance:  SBP is a program which the retiree elects to pay for that will provide the spouse with continued benefits after the service member?s death.  In a divorce case where the former military spouse is entitled to receive benefits, the spouse will often pay the premium for the SBP.  Another option that is available to protect the former spouse?s benefit, is for the former spouse to purchase a life insurance policy on the service member.  This is often more cost-effective for the parties, because the parties can obtain greater coverage for a lesser premium.  However, this is not always a good option for parties where it will be difficult for the service member/retiree spouse to pass the physical exam required for the life insurance coverage; or in cases where the premium for the life insurance policy will be higher than the cost of SBP.   
  4. Service Member?s Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Family SGLI:  This is a benefit often overlooked by the parties to a divorce.  Obviously a former spouse of a military member will no longer be eligible for coverage under the Family SGLI.  However, if the military member is the person paying spousal maintenance or child support, they are often required to maintain life insurance to secure that obligation.  SGLI is a viable option for securing that obligation and is often much cheaper than civilian life insurance policies.  If a service member is not obligated to maintain this policy with the former spouse as a beneficiary to secure child support or maintenance obligations, then it is important to remember that the beneficiary of the policy will not automatically change at the time your divorce decree enters, and if you do not want to have your former spouse as the beneficiary after the conclusion of the divorce, you must execute a new Election Certificate.  It is also important to update your will and any other life insurance policies that may be affected by your divorce.  Once a divorce is filed, you cannot change these items until the decree has entered.
  5. Thrift Savings Plan (TSP):  Since contributions to TSP come directly out of the service member?s pay, they often forget that they have this.  Soldiers who served combat tours may have made significant contributions to TSP, and generally TSP is considered a marital asset, if the contents were contributed during the marriage or if there has been an increase in the value during the marriage.
  6. TriCare:  Civilian medical insurance is expensive.  Often it is important for divorcing couples to recognize the impact that acquiring civilian medical insurance will have on their divorce.  Spousal maintenance is awarded based on the receiving party?s need versus the paying party?s ability to pay.  Usually the receiving party?s need will greatly increase once they are no longer eligible for TriCare.  In cases where the marriage overlapped the military service by at least 15 years will allow the former spouse to maintain TriCare for one year;  where the overlap is 20 years or more, the former spouse will have lifetime coverage with the payment of a small premium each year.  If the overlap is less than 15 years, there is no provision for the former spouse to maintain coverage.  Some couples will consider a legal separation in this case, so that the spouse can continue receiving the medical coverage.   

This is a general overview of potential items that are often overlooked in a military divorce.  Every divorce is unique and some of these items may apply to your situation, and some may not.  Ensuring that you have all of the information about which items do apply to your case will help to ensure that you obtain a fair settlement or a fair ruling by the Court

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MPatMarrisonFor over a quarter century, we have helped people during what is often the darkest time in their lives. Divorce is not easy even under the best of circumstances. For most people, family is central. Having something go wrong in the family can have a ripple effect that extends beyond the home and into other areas.

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