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Divorce and military retirement pay: the USFPA at 30

It's not easy being married to someone in a high-stress profession. Just ask the husbands and wives of police officers, firefighters and ministers, among others.

No one would deny that military service members are on that list too. In fact, in an effort address the issue, Congress passed a special law called the 1982 Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA). Congress passed the law in response to a U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld a ban on the division of military retirement pay during property division in a divorce.

The law grants authority to state legislatures to classify military retirement pay (other than disability pay) as property that is subject to division upon divorce. The law allows Virginia and other states to enact laws dividing it by up to 50 percent as part of a marital property division.

It's been over 30 years since Congress passed this law. And critics now question whether it is fundamentally fair. They argue that military retirement is more like a reserve status than a civilian retirement, and that those who served in the military should be entitled to keep what they earned. On this view, there is no need for a special law that seeks to benefit spouses.

Supporters of the law also have strong feelings about it. They say spouses make sacrifices as well, trying to support their husband or wife's career. This frequently involves relocating, which can disrupt the rhythms of family live immeasurably. And of course deployments are notoriously brutal in their emotional effects, with separation and anxiety abounding.

It is hardly uncommon for people to be concerned about unfairness in the divorce process. This can happen in military and civilian divorces alike. But more debate seems likely on the status of the USFSPA.

Source: "Military Divorcees Aim to End Lifetime Alimony Rules," Newsmax, David Yonkman, 2-18-13

Our firm handles situations similar to those discussed in this post in Virginia. To learn more about our practice, please visit our page on military divorce.

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