Military, Divorce, and Money: Share Your Story

In the 7 years that I’ve been writing The Paycheck Chronicles, I’ve received hundreds of comments and emails from military members and ex-spouses who are thinking about, in the middle of, or dealing with the results of divorce.  And, because this is a money blog, I hear money stories.  Based upon the stories I’ve heard, and the questions I receive, there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about how military service impacts the division of marital property.

In particular, I hear from many people who have been divorced for several years but are just now realizing that their property settlement was structured in a way that isn’t particular fair to one party or the other.  Sometimes, this was a deliberate, with one party trying to “take” as much as possible.  Often, though, it is because the settlement agreement didn’t take into consideration all of the special issues that come with military service, including the Survivor Benefit Plan, making allowances for VA benefits, and all the ramifications of dividing retirement accounts (both civilian and military.)

It’s clear that the information currently available isn’t great, and that the parties (and their lawyers) aren’t always considering all the different aspects of the situation.

Right now, I’m trying to learn as much as possible about the subject.  To that end, I’d love to hear your stories.  If you are military, or your (ex-)spouse is military, and you are anywhere in the divorce process, please share!  I’m looking for details on how the process unfolds, what sort of things were considered, and what things went right and wrong.  I’m particularly curious about the settlement agreement, how you came to an agreement, what sort of things are included, and whether you think that it was all equitable or if you think that the agreement wasn’t really that good.  For those of you who have been divorced a long time, has your opinion about the settlement agreement changed over time?

Your answers will help me know what topics need to be covered in future posts, so you will be helping me AND you will be helping your fellow readers.  Thank you so much!

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.
  • mga

    it would help if you shared an email address to send you info

    • guest

      I’d think the GIANT Tell Kate link on the upper left of the page would be sufficient.

    • Desertknight

      I think my divorce and division of property was both good and bad. In the 8 years I was married, I was deployed or living unaccompanied for 5 years. The reality is, you can’t be married and not live with the person a majority of the time. During the 5 years I was ‘away,’ my spouse chose to stop working full-time and I was the primary bread winner. I paid all the bills (household, personal credit cards, etc.) and deposited all of my check, less my travel pay, into our joint account. I also fully funded my spouse’s IRA, to offset the benefits lost from employment.

      Due to a demand for my skills (and inability to return to my civilian job because they downsized me while I was deployed), I persuaded my spouse to relocate the family to my next assignment. We relocated and began living together again. But, again, I spent most of my time in travel status and my spouse chose to remain at home. While at home, my spouse started an online relationship and in short time asked for a divorce. I was asked to move out, and did, but as my spouse lacked employment, I remained responsible for paying the mortgage and all other bills. After a year living apart, I moved back to the house (to eliminate the costs associated with two homes) and directed that my spouse either assume responsibility for her bills and move out on her own or work things out. She refused either option and I filed for divorce.

      Despite living in a lifetime alimony state, my attorney successfully limited alimony to 6 months at $2K per month. However, I obtained shared parenting (50/50), child support was set at $2500 per month and I had to provide half of my personal retirement accounts (about $60K) and an ‘advanced payout’ for my military pension (about $85K). All told, my spouse got 50% of my monthly income for 6 months and nearly $150K plus $40K in the retirement accounts I funded for her while she stayed at home for 8 years (really 3 years) of marriage.

      It has been 5 years since the divorce and with the exception of having to spend down personal savings and retirement accounts to pay health bills and cover periods of unemployment, the only hurdle in the settlement was in reducing my child support after I became disabled and long-termed unemployed. Mediation helped resolve the situation and I have enjoyed caring for my kids.

      If there was anything I would change it would be to have child support calculated at 50% of actual expenses instead of an arbitrary amount set by the court. Despite having my children 50% of the time (usually 60%), I still paid my ex $2500 per month, plus medical and dental insurance coverage for my children, plus 50% of all medical and dental expenses, plus 50% of all educational and vacation expenses.

      My first year payments to my ex was in excess of $60,000 (including court costs and lawyer fees). Fortunately, my annual costs are now less than $20,000 per year and will stop in 6 years. If my calculations are correct my divorce will have cost me nearly $500K over 10 years while the money spent during my marriage was about $1.5M. So, my 8 year marriage only cost about $2M in income.

      The good news, I’ll retire next year with a monthly pension, VA disability and the freedom to spend time with my kids while my ex has informed me that she will never be able to retire. It seems her boyfriend didn’t work out and she has burned through all the money she got in the divorce.

      • Kate

        Desertknight, it sounds like you had a good attorney who helped you come to an agreement that worked for both of you. Yes, it ended up being a lot of money, but at least it was an agreement and not some arbitrary decision made by a judge. Good job, and great attitude!!

        • Desertknight

          I was upfront with me ex on the best and worst possible financial settlement. I was clear about our finances, investments, costs and my support of her decision to not work. So, instead of fighting over money (which is really a distraction), we discussed how the kids would be taken care of (current and future) and how to ensure her transition. She wasn’t greedy and I wasn’t stingy. So, we may not be married but she didn’t leave empty handed. Since I paid everything up front, then my checks will never be divided. I got lucky.

  • Greg

    I think its bad that your spouse get part of your military retirement for life. If she gets remarried it should stop, why should I support her new husband and kids if they have any. I need my retirement to support myself, I put my life on the line also by being in the military. Im not getting one dime from her civilian retirement, is that fair?

    • Lee

      It does stop. If she divorces or is widowed she can have the reitrement started again.

      • Kate

        Lee, you are confusion two different situations: division of military retirement as a marital asset, and 20-20-20 benefits and Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) benefits.

        If military retirement is divided as part of the marital assets, that does not change as the result of remarriage. This is the same as if one party is awarded the house in a settlement agreement, that does not change if that party remarries. Both are considered marital assets, and remarriage does not change the agreed-to division of those assets.

    • Kate

      Greg, why was division of her retirement not part of your settlement agreement? This is the kind of issue I’m trying to learn more about. The change to allow (not require) division of military retirement was made specifically so that military retirement division would be allowable (not required) just as civilian retirement division is allowable (not required.) It was to put the two situations on equal footing.

    • jacquie

      20 years of marriage and all were during the military service time earns both of you half. You do what you want and she does what she wants. If the marriage was not 20 years, other particulars exist. Marriage is a team-2 become 1 is the vow. Justice is important because you both have sacrificed something for the other. All other retirements have to be split…why wouldn’t the military? By the way, many spouses that are dual retirements at same marriage DO get civilian retirement splits as well. ex: she was civil service and you were active duty…both are split at time marriage is dissolved.

      • Kate

        jacquie, the 50-50 division is not law. Each divorcing couple has the right to divide their retirement assets as they see fit. It is not true that “all other retirements have to be split.” It is true that all other retirements MAY be split, just as military retirements MAY be split.

  • Guest 2

    If you’re reading this on a mobile device, no such Tell Katie button appears as Guest refers to above.

  • ldajnowski

    I was in the Persian Gulf Onboard the USS Jarrett FFG-33 during the time Iran attacked the USS Stark which we towed out of the Persian Gulf so it could be brought back to the U.S. for repairs and I received a Dear John letter from my wife of 11 years. My two daughters told me that she had been seeing another man for a couple of years behind my back and wanted to divorce me and marry him and she did just that; divorce me and married this other guy immediately. I was forced to have my military retirement docked even though I protested. She has received more than $200,000 from me over the years and she makes more than I do from woriking and her husband still does not work so he is living off of money from my retired pay too. So the government is rewarding her infidelity and mal intnet toward me the Veteran who earned this retired pay. What needs to change for FSPA is this: Remarriage by the former spouse terminates FSPA payments immediately. Time limit on receiving benefits (NOT FOREVER). Alimony is Not Forever! Any increase in Rank or years served after the divorce should not be included. The service Person earned the rank increase and continued to serve so the ex-spouse should not benefit from that! I left the service earlier than I had planned due to these FSPA mandates on my retired pay and did not want to pay the ex-spouse more for addtional service and rank.
    FSPA is the worst law I can think of and it disgraces the military vets who sacrifice the best years of their lifes serving their country. I am so digusted with this FSPA law I cannot begin to tell you how I feel about the U.S. Governement which has disgraced me and others like me.

    • Kate

      ldajnowski, you do know that (almost) all the things that you are asking for are permissable under the FSPA. It is between the two divorcing spouses to determine how the amount is calculated, and smart calculations do take into consideration that the service member may continue to serve after the divorce.

      For example, a settlement agreement may state that the ex-spouse will receive 50% of the retirement pay attributable to the first 16 years of service. It can be tricky to phrase so that DFAS will accept it, but it is absolutely doable.

      It is true that you can not end the division of retirement pay after remarriage or after a certain term. If you wanted to have it go on for a certain term, then you should have negotiated alimony in lieu of division of retirement pay. Same for remarriage issues.

      All of these things can be hammered out in a settlement agreement. There is no requirement in the FSPA that any particular portion of retirement pay MUST be divided. The law only allows that it MAY be divided. Retirement pay is just one aspect of the entire property settlement agreement that also includes other assets, houses, debts, cars, and any other support payments.

      • ldajnowski

        I was forced to pay a percentage of my retirement pay; I asked to pay alimony but the court decided against me and opted for FSPA payments for the rest of my life. I had absolutely no choice in the matter; it was forced upon me. I paid child support at the same time until my children reached adult age. My lawyer tried extremely hard to define payments whether alimony or FSPA for a certain amount of time (years) but the court decided to allow payments until I die. FSPA is so wide open that the courts take the maximum allowed and do not want to negotiate whatsoever. That is why I am so bitter that I have no say so in this FSPA and my lawyer said sorry so many times to me since he could not get another arrangement since FSPA was so pro ex-spouse and so anti service member. I have other retired military friends that have experienced the same thing; they were forced to pay FSPA based on their rank at retirement and years of marriage for the rest of their lives.

        • Kate

          I’m sorry to hear that the court made that ruling. I would like to imagine that they took the division of retirement pay into account when deciding how to divide all your other marital assets, but I know that sometimes courts are for some reason swayed one way or the other.

          • ldajnowski

            Thanks and what I am simply trying to get the lawmakers to do is take a close look at the current FSPA and then they will see it is derogatory to all concerned. If one retired serviceman/women is docked retired pay under FSPA then ALL retired serviceman/women should be docked as the FSPA directs. I have met some retired servicemen who are not being docked and they were married while in service for 20 or more years. Why ALL are not being treated equally is ONE GREAT DISGRACE to those that are. Re-marriage should NULLIFY the payments. Most ex-spouses get remarried soon after leaving the serviceman/women.
            (Some do not but most do) and the money then is going to pay for their New Spouse/Children which is another TOTAL DISGRACE that a retired serviemember has to pay for an ex-spouses new family! Other changes are needed too. HOWEVER no one in government wants to do anything about the FSPA as it is currently written and that is the ULTIMATE DISGRACE. If I have to do it all over again I would have never served this country.

      • Macatak33

        Not many lawyer are aware of this…”There is no requirement in the FSPA that any particular portion of retirement pay MUST be divided. The law only allows that it MAY be divided.” Mine was clueless and I should have been the one that was clueless yet was told I didn’t have a choice in the matter and that my retirement was part hers no matter what I thought.

    • Val

      You said everything I feel… Right on subject….. I couldn’t have said it any better… Spouses become greedy and hateful during a divorce….. They want to hurt you in anyway they can….. I never cheated on my wife and was a good devoted husband who provided everything for her. She never worked during our 27 year marriage. One day she walks by me and states that she is leaving…. That’s all I got and she walked out the door. Never got an explanation. But she made dam sure she got half my retirement…. Now she’s remarried and still taking half my retirement…… The only time it will stop is when she dies… How am I supposed to now when she dies…????

  • Colt45931

    Not to Change the subject , BUT , I’am a disabled veteran . who was supposed to receive compensation back to the day after discharge . The VA delibertly did not do this breaking the Law or Policy . I’ve been tying 11 years now to no end and i’am sick over this . I’ve been trying to find a lawyer to represent me in a lawsuit for discrimination , but can’t find any . Any Help would be Appreciated . Colt

  • Mary

    My husband was in Desert Shield and Desert Storm and came home in 1991. We had been married 22 years at that time. We tried to make things work and had almost been married 36 years when we divorced in 2005. You see, he was not faithful and had been with many women in combat and continued until he found the girl he wanted to marry almost half my age and over 20 years younger than my husband. I was able to get half of his retirement which was only $400 per month, but my lawyer did not put in the divorce to receive this after his death and in 2013 he died from a rare lung disease. This was unexpected as he was always healthy. I believe I could have gotten part of the SBP that was put in for all those years but he took me off. The lawyer did not know anything about this and I did not know about it. Just want to say the husband veteran is not the only one to suffer from divorce and it is not always the woman’s fault.

    • ldajnowski

      Mary, No it is not always the Women’s fault but the FSPA rules are not fair whatsoever and I previously explained. I wish you were receiving the SBP but SBP is another matter. Right now the only way I can stop this very large FSPA payment to my ex is to Die ! This FSPA was written many, many years ago and it presumed that the military spouse was a homemaker and not working but this is no longer the case. Remarriage is one thing that should stop this immediately but the Government does not want to discuss any facets of the FSPA with anyone no matter what. This is a disgrace to all concerned that the Government will not look at FSPA and see that it is extremely unfair to all concerned.

    • jacquie

      If it is in your papers, he cannot take you off. I had it put in my papers because I served him and our children and the families for many years and had the clear understanding that we were working together….until he chose another family after 23 1/2 years and still serving! I am so sorry! You are so right, we all suffer!

    • Lena

      With you married so long check with Social Security. You should be able to receive his SS benefits. If you are over 65 and receiving SS and his is higher that yours they will change to the higher. If you are under 65 you will be able to receive survivor benefits even though you are divorced.

  • tker

    i can understand that she was a part of your service,and gets 50% at 20,but i do not understand why she gets any cola .or pay raises AFTER we are divorce

    • Kate

      tker, it is very easy to include post-divorce pay raises into your division of retirement pay. It just has to be worked out in the settlement agreement at the time of divorce. Even if you are unable to come to a settlement agreement together, and it goes to court, most courts agree that is a reasonable thing.

      COLA is part of retirement pay, and therefore you can not take it out of the division of property.

  • tker

    also why the support payments go on PAST THE 20 YEARS,can lawyer stop this?

    • ldajnowski

      If you know a lawyer would would take on a FSPA case please let me know but all I have talked to will not take a case in regards to the FSPA. Thanks much.



    • Kate

      Mr. Creech, DFAS is only concerned about the part of division of military pay as it applies to them. The rule that they quoted is that if your marriage lasted 10 years, it is possible to have DFAS pay the divided part directly to the ex-spouse.

      When you construct your divorce decree and separation of assets, you and your wife can agree to whatever division that you want. A good settlement agreement will take into consideration all the assets that were obtained during the marriage, and figure out a division that is acceptable to both parties. This includes house, cars, savings, other retirement accounts, civilian pensions and military retirement pay.

    • guest

      Most courts would only award her a part of the pension prorated for the time you were AD. You need a dang good lawyer to ensure she gets slim to none of it.

    • lena

      its true, my husband and I were married for 17 years, he retired from the af the day we got married, I continued with my air force career and when I retired he left me to go back to his second wife and they took half of my retirement, he was higher rank than me, so my retirement was small and now really small, I do not get half of his due to the fact he retired the day we got married…..Con man, I say he must of been, and yes I was a fool!!!!

  • Jacquie

    I served “with” my husband happily as we raised our family. I had and still do have a heart of gratitude for our marriage lasting well over 23 years. He was a post CSM that traveled during the last couple of years and “found” a new love. He left the 2 daughters that were still under age and I behind while he moved in with this woman and her family at the new assignment…we waited because he said we could move with him in summer when school was over…long story made short-we are divorced…I had him served with papers after I was told by many and hired a private investigator to show me he was unfaithful…Our living hell began. I ended up with ptsd because of his torture…..we were married-2 became 1…WE worked together for OUR future…he only allowed me what the law said he had to! Without law of former spouse I would have been simply “kicked to the curb”…I was a very devoted spouse all of our marriage and there is NO civilian job that would not expect a husband or wife that provided for their family financially to split earnings…I am extremely thankful for the justice…yet the terror will never stop. Love is looking beyond yourself; what kind of character and integrity are Americans becoming? I “gave” 25 years of my life for my spouse and family too-much sacrifice and much love…marriage. Just live together if you don’t want to share your life…money and home and love. This experience is horrifying and torture to live with…I am injured and ashamed and I haven’t even done anything but love…and many believe I don’t even deserve monetary compensation…wow. Painful and insult to injury…I am sooo very thankful this is a law-not just for the military by the way…justice was already in place for marriages outside of the military…justice and consequences are life…just not seemingly fair for the self-centered. I have earned many outstanding spouse medals by the way-but the work I put in and the support I gave the families and soldiers were quickly forgotten when the almighty dollar came into the picture. Sad. I too sacrificed my life in order to raise our family-even when he was deployed. My father put himself in harms way as a police officer daily and the law stands that he would split his retirement with his former spouse if he had 1. You all complaining need the love of Jesus Christ- to be filled with the Holy Spirit and love of God-the creator of you, me , the universe, heavens , earth , and hell to consume you and feel the gratitude of a spouse and love forever. Without the laws in place to divide as should be in a marriage many, many women were being dumped and left to poverty after service member retired. Unfortunately, many will leave their former spouse to die just so he or she doesn’t “take” what is felt to be his or hers. These topics make my stomach very upset-they hurt my heart, truly.

  • jessie

    this such a painful subject for me, so much heartache, and i got nothing but social security, i was married to this man fir 35 yes, stay home mom, couldn’t afford an attorney, i lost it all……the military will not give me my survivor’s benefit…..

    • guest

      You don’t have a survivors benefit unless you paid for it after the divorce, if you didn’t get a part of the retirement in the settlement you surely didn’t pay for SBP to maintain it so it’s not that the military won’t give it to you, it’s that you didn’t have a lawyer to settle your divorce properly.

  • There is no law that states a service member must lose a percentage of their pension in divorce, its simply an asset that’s on the table and up for negotiation. When going through the property settlement of the divorce you may find it possible to offer the non-military spouse the bulk of your assets minus the pension and SBP. Give them the house, cars, furniture, savings, assume all debts, etc… Ensure you include a statement in the Divorce Decree outlining they waived their rights to your Mil Pension and SBP.

    • tony

      she won’t get anything, Min is 10 years she has to be marred to you. Don’t let her lawyer bully you into thinking she is entitled.

      • Kate

        Tony, this is one of the misconceptions of military divorce law. The rule about 10 years only applies to the the ability of payments to be made directly out of retirement pay via the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) . All marital assets MAY be divided at any length of marriage. It is up to the two parties to decide how to divide their assets. If the two parties can not agree, then it goes to the courts.

        In general most people would agree that shorter marriages change the way that property is divided. However, if the two parties can not come to an agreement and it ends up in court, anything can happen.

  • tony

    this statement is not true about the wife not getting anything thing from the divorce, and your divorce decree it doesn’t have to say anything about her getting 50 percent of militaryretirement. The government has what is called The Spousal Protection Act and they will intervene.

    • Kate

      tony, this is not true. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act DOES NOT automatically entitle a former spouse to a portion of the member’s retired pay. The former spouse must have the division of military retirement pay specified in their divorce decree or other final court order (depending on the state.)