A service member is eligible to receive retirement benefits if he or she has been a member of the U.S. Armed Forces for 20 years or longer. Those benefits are quite generous compared to other government retirement pay, or even most private pensions. Benefits begin the day after retirement takes effect, and there is no minimum age for retirement—making retirement possible as young as age 37.
In most cases, retirement after 20 years’ service qualifies a veteran to receive 75 percent of his or her pre-retirement pay in retirement. Furthermore, veterans who served longer than the minimum 20 years will find they will receive a larger fraction of their base-pay rates.
All told, it can be a tidy chunk of money.
An Ex-Spouse’s Rights
In a 1981 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that military retirement pay was a strictly federal matter not subject to state law, and therefore state courts could not divide those retirement benefits as community property in a divorce. Many thought this was an unjust situation, and in 1982, Congress passed the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) in response.
The USFSPA allows states to treat military retirement pay as marital property during a divorce action. North Carolina divides marital property using the “equitable division” rule, so courts in our state will not necessarily divide military pensions equally, but rather in a manner the judge considers to be fair.
If the spouses were married for at least ten years—overlapping the service member’s pension qualifying term of 20 years or more in the Armed Forces—then the Defense Department will take notice of the divorce decree. The Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS), which processes paychecks for the Department of Defense, can automatically send the ex-spouse the required portion of the veteran’s monthly retirement benefits. Under these circumstances, the DFAS also will enforce a garnishment order and withhold some of the veteran’s monthly pay to settle outstanding alimony and child support bills.
However, if the couple was married less than ten years, the DFAS will not cooperate with North Carolina divorce directives.
Getting the Financial Support You Deserve
Even though the Defense Finance and Accounting Service only will cooperate with civilian authorities if the marriage lasted at least ten years, that doesn’t mean the ex-spouse is left out in the cold. North Carolina courts still can order a veteran to pay his or her ex-spouse a share of the military retirement pay. The Department of Defense will not enforce this order, but the civilian authorities from the state where the veteran resides will assist in collecting North Carolina support orders.
Managing the complexities of a military divorce in North Carolina can be a difficult area of legal practice. Fortunately, the Wilmington divorce attorneys of Speaks Law Firm are up to the challenge. Whether you are a military veteran seeking to keep your fair share of benefits or a nonmilitary spouse looking for your rightful portion of marital assets, we can help you.