Dividing a Military Pension in Tennessee Divorce

Tennessee military pension and divorce laws issues include Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard concerning service members stationed at the Naval Support Facility Mid-South near Millington, Tennessee, Fort Campbell, an army base that straddles the Tennessee and Kentucky border, and their families living in the Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, and Bartlett areas.

Division of a Military Pension in Tennessee Divorce

Diivision of a Military Pension in Tennessee Divorce

Division of a Military Pension in Tennessee Divorce

Military pensions are important assets to be considered in divorce cases. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) has established military pensions as “property,” a marital asset, rather than “income,” so divorce courts can divide it between a member of the military and an ex.

The military will send a portion of military benefits directly to an ex if his or her marriage to a member of the military lasted at least 10 years and those 10 years “overlapped” 10 years of military service.

In the case that someone was married to a member of the armed forces for 20 or more years, during which time the service member served for at least 20 years, the spouse can be eligible for medical/dental care, a military ID, and other important privileges and benefits in addition to a percentage of the pension, and these can last a lifetime.

Keep in mind that the ex of a service member may be entitled to pension benefits even if the 10-year or 20-year conditions are not met. The difference is that if these conditions are not met, the military will not send payments directly to the ex, so they will have to come directly from the former service member.

Though all branches of the military offer the same basic retirement benefits, all other matters being equal, they can be calculated using different formulas. “Final Pay,” “High-3” (the highest 36 months of basic pay), and what is known as the “REDUX” formula are the basic different ways of determining retirement pay to take into consideration different situations.

Various states have different laws on the division of pensions in divorce cases, so it’s critical for someone divorcing a member of the military learn what limits his or her state mandates for such division. Who initiates the divorce and in what state he or she files for divorce could have a big effect on the division of a pension.

In addition, the military limits the amount of pension that can go to an ex to 50 percent of the military pension. This amount can go up to 65 percent of the retirement pay if child support is factored in.

There is also a difference between regular, “longevity” retirement pay and “disability” retirement pay. The amount of a military pension that covers disability retirement pay is generally not subject to division, but this is governed by some complex formulas.

How to Divide a Military Pension in a Tennessee Divorce

When it comes to military pensions, it’s important to keep in mind that the military definitely wants to make sure that those in service meet their financial and legal obligations because doing otherwise would reflect badly on the branch of service. On the other hand, the military wants to make sure that its members, retired or not, have their rights protected and get a fair hearing, so they follow some strict guidelines in these matters.

It’s critical that a nonmilitary spouse divorcing a member of the military not inadvertently “waive” the right to a portion of a military pension, but this can happen if a divorce agreement does not specifically mention such pensions. If the subject of a military pension is not specifically addressed in a dissolution agreement, the nonmilitary ex could be considered as having waived rights to the pension, and it could be an uphill and expensive legal battle to have them brought back to the table.

The amount of a pension the ex of a member of the military will receive is determined by complex formulas that take into consideration the date of retirement, date of divorce, the length of service and the marriage, and varying state laws. It could end up being a set dollar amount per month with no adjustments for cost of living increases, or it could be a certain percentage of the total retirement payment, which could go up with cost of living increases. These are important matters in light of the fact that someone who entered at age 19 could retire at age 39, so he or she and an ex could expect to collect pension benefits for a great deal of time. Calculating the best division of a military pension can easily warrant getting the advice of an actuary or a CPA able to work out the various possibilities.

While the death of the retired service member will end the pension, the retiree can buy a Survivor Benefit Plan, basically an insurance policy or annuity that will allow an ex to continue to receive pension benefits after the service member’s death. The retiree’s pension pay is reduced by the premium for this annuity, and a divorce court could rule that the retiree must pay for this coverage.

The division of a military pension requires execution of certain requires documents unique to each branch of the military.  Even experienced Tennessee divorce attorney may work with pension counsel to make sure the exact information is communicated with the Government in the right format.

All the forgoing is meant simply to offer an overview of military pension division, and many books, legal opinions, and law articles have been written about it. It’s an area of considerable importance to someone divorcing a member of the military, retired or not, and getting sound legal advice that takes into consideration specifics of any one case is an absolute necessity.

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Since 1995, as part of the American Bar Association Family Law Section’s Military Pro Bono Project, Miles Mason, Sr. has volunteered to serve as an attorney on the Operation Stand-By list, supporting military families by answering legal questions from members of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps from around the world on Tennessee family law and military divorce involving service members and their spouses.

Special thanks to Mark E. Sullivan, Esq., North Carolina attorney and author of the nation’s leading book on the subject, The Military Divorce Handbook: A Practical Guide to Representing Military Personnel and Their Families.  Also, thank you to Scott David Stewart, Esq., Arizona military divorce attorney, and Charles Hofheimer, Virgina divorce attorney and author of What Every Virginia Military Wife Needs to Know About Divorce.


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