Today you may not think twice about splitting military retirement benefits during a #divorce. But it wasn’t always that way. A 1981 U.S. Supreme Court decision, McCarty v. McCarty, actually precluded state courts from dividing military retired pay as an asset of the marriage. In response, Congress passed the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA in 1982. This legislation specifically gave a state court the authority to treat military retired pay as marital property and divide it between the spouses.
Of course, the actual process to divide these unique accounts is slightly different than standard retirement accounts. Rather than using a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”), military retirement accounts are divisible using a Military Retired Pay Division Order.
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (“DFAS”) has very specific rules about how and when military retirement pay can be divided. For a division of retired pay as a property award to be enforceable under the USFSPA, the former spouse must have been married to the service member for at least 10 years, and during that time the service member must have performed at least 10 years of creditable service. This is referred to as the 10/10 requirement.
In addition, no more than 50% of retired pay can be awarded as marital property. Because the DFAS has very specific requirements relative to division of military retired pay, it is important that the parties understand these technical requirements early on. There are many ways that a former spouse can lose his or her right to division of retired military pay, so relying on an expert in this unique area is very important.