Getting divorced is often a difficult process. There are strong emotions involved, as well as the need to start developing a new plan for the rest of your life. That process may include reviewing your financial circumstances and adapting plans for the future, such as your retirement. One consideration that people may overlook in the initial stages of a divorce is the potential impact of the end of their marriage on their retirement, including their pensions.
For those in the military, there are special considerations that may differ from those in the private sector. One such difference is that active duty and deployment could delay your ability to finalize a divorce for some time. Another is that unusual visitation arrangements, such as virtual visitation, may be your only option while you're abroad for military work. It also means that there are special rules in place regarding how to handle a pension.
How Washington family courts handle asset division
In general, when couples divorce in Washington, the courts seek to divide assets and debts in a way that is fair and equitable to all parties involved. Equitable, however, does not inherently mean equal. Instead, it involves careful consideration of many factors, including the length of the marriage, the needs of any children and the economic circumstances and prospects of each spouse.
For the average couple with a pension, any deposits from during the marriage could end up subject to division between spouses. Retirement accounts similarly become marital assets, regardless of whose name is actually on the account. However, when it comes to military pensions, the process is slightly different.
The military has its own rules about dividing pensions
Congress understood the value of pensions and the importance of these funds to the financial future of both spouses in a divorce. To address concerns about military pensions, they wrote and passed the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act in 1982. This legislation creates a standard for all state courts faced with dividing a military pension in a divorce.
In general, this means that each of the 50 states will handle military pensions like marital or community property. While many people believe that there is a 10 year marriage requirement for the division of a military pension, this is not always the case. A state court can decide to split a pension in marriages that lasted less than a decade.
What the 10 year mark actually represents is the ability of the Department of Defense to directly pay the former spouse of a retired service member. Direct payments are not actually necessary for a pension to end up split. The courts could simply offset the value of that pension with other considerable assets or even order spousal support that will get paid out of the pension. Knowing these rules can help you understand the likely outcome for your pension in a divorce.