Jul 28

3 Reasons Military Divorces Are Harder to Resolve

Written by: Megan Dell


Military divorces are common in the greater Charleston area because there are four military installations nearby. If you are in the military or married to someone in the military, and considering divorce, then read on to learn how military divorces can be harder to resolve.

Why military divorces take more time to resolve

Military families are used to changing their locations when they are ordered to, sometimes with short notice. Children from military families are more used to living in single-parent homes for extended periods of time. These families tend to live away from their extended families so their support networks must be intentionally created. Military divorces can be equally complicated.

Just as military families have unique challenges, so do military divorces. A spouse’s role as a military servicemember affects all aspects of their divorce from spousal support and alimony, division of assets and debts, and the specifics of custody and visitation.

Military Divorces

Here are three reason military divorces can be harder to resolve:

1.   Retirement and health benefits are complicated for military families (but important!)

It is common for long-term employment to provide a pension as a benefit, and the military is no different. The first thing to determine is whether the servicemember has the “old” pension plan or the “new” blended plan that became available in 2018. The old plan is divided like a traditional pension, but the new plan has components of a pension and of a cash-value account called a Thrift Savings Plan.

Once you know the type of plan to divide, for the division to take effect the requirements set out by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (“DFAS”). The orders for division of military retirement benefits are not exactly the same as QDROs, but they are just as complex and detailed.

There are also options available for long-time military spouses, such as direct payment of their portion of retirement benefits (if they meet the “20-20-20 rule”) or continued TRICARE coverage after divorce (if they meet the “20-20-15 rule”).

2.   Disability payments from veterans affairs are not an asset

Most service members are familiar with the option to apply for disability payments through Veterans Affairs. Except in specific, rare circumstances, the servicemember must waive a portion of their monthly pension payment in exchange for receipt of monthly VA disability benefits. Doing so is encouraged because disability benefits are not subject to income taxes.

Additionally, in long-term marriages, while pension payments are often a marital asset subject to division in divorce, VA disability benefits are not. The United States Supreme Court made that decision in Howell v. Howell, 137 S. Ct. 1400 (2017). Because of that decision, military divorces have become harder to resolve, and it is now more important than ever that a servicemember and their spouse understand how a VA waiver can affect their finances post-divorce.

As retired service members generally have the option to seek increased disability ratings, and waive more of their pensions, as they age. That likelihood must also be considered when determining support obligations.

3.   Child custody plans must consider continued military service

Children from military families are often used to moving, and the possibility of one parent needing to relocate due to military orders does not change if a couple gets divorced. Likewise, one parent may be deployed for significant periods, which will affect how often they can see their children and setting an appropriate parenting schedule. Continued military service also increases the likelihood that a future action for modification of custody and visitation will occur.

Even if both parents live locally, if a servicemember parent lives on-base, there may be complications in allowing the other access to the base for purposes of visitation exchanges or to obtain healthcare treatment for the child. These details need to be specifically addressed in court orders and parenting plans.

Military divorces in South Carolina: be prepared

If you or your spouse is in the military and divorce is a possibility, these are just a few of the issues that can make your divorce case harder to resolve. It is important to get guidance and support from a lawyer experienced with military divorces in South Carolina.