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Securing retirement benefits in a military divorce

It can be hard to think too far into the future when going through a divorce. After all, there is already so much to think about, like finding a new place to live or figuring out child custody. But you could be missing out on your opportunity to create a financially secure retirement. Here is what you should know about dividing retirement pay in a military divorce.

Most divorcing couples have to split up retirement savings, but you will face unique challenges.  Your soon-to-be ex's retirement benefits are not something you can just portion out between the two of you at the time of divorce. Your ex will not directly send over your share of benefits, either. Instead, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service will do so.

Do I qualify for benefits?

Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act -- the USFSPA -- you have the right to receive some of your ex's military retirement benefits if you meet certain criteria. You might have already heard of something called the 10/10 requirement, which is what many people call the USFSPA's criteria. This means that you must have been married for 10 or more years, and your ex must have served for no less than 10 years during that same period of time.

Just meeting the criteria is not enough. You will also need to establish that you have met the requirements in your marriage settlement agreement. After that, the judge who issues the order for dividing the military retirement benefits needs to have jurisdiction for your ex.

When will I get paid?

Once your ex files the court order with the DFAS, you will probably have to wait around 90 days before it sends your first payment. However, this only applies when he or she is already receiving those benefits. If your ex is an active servicemember, your payments should start 90 days after he or she qualifies for payment.

There are situations in which one can use retirement benefits to satisfy other financial obligations. For example, the court might decide to draw child support payments from your ex's retirement benefits. There are limits to this, though. It cannot draw more than 65% of his or her disposable retirement benefits.

You need the right help

Most married couples in Virginia spend years saving for retirement. Military couples also work toward their retirement, but not always in the same way. Even if you and your ex had a retirement account like a 401k, you were still both counting on those military retirement benefits for your future.

You do not have to give up the idea of financial security in retirement. In fact, you might be able to claim as much as 50% of your ex's military retirement benefits. Getting those benefits is not always easy, though. You should not leave anything to chance since your future is on the line. Instead, be sure to work with an experienced attorney who understands the unique challenges of your military divorce.

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