Dividing assets in divorce is always a difficult process. Military divorce is no exception. When one spouse is a service member, special laws specifically for military divorces can come into play. These laws include rules for splitting military pension benefits.
Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) pays out military pensions. A civilian divorce in New Jersey would have a court ordering a pension provider like DFAS to split the pension. But military couples must follow specific guidelines for DFAS to pay both the service member and the former spouse after divorce.
Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act
Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA), a military organization must accept a state’s ruling in a divorce. This means that the former spouse can claim military pension benefits as marital property in New Jersey courts. If the court awards a portion of pension benefits to the former spouse, the military will accept and enforce the ruling. But to enforce it, DFAS has certain requirements of the couple.
The former spouse can claim pension benefits regardless of how long the couple is married. But under the USFSPA, DFAS has two qualifying criteria to pay the former spouse directly. The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. And the service member must have served during at least 10 years of the marriage. This is known as the 10/10 requirement.
If the couple meets the 10/10 requirement, DFAS will pay pension benefits directly to the former spouse. If the couple does not meet the 10/10 requirement, then the state court can still award the former spouse a portion of the pension benefits. But the payments must come from the service member instead of DFAS.
Much like any other divorce, the laws of how couples split pensions depend on the jurisdiction of the court. New Jersey divorce courts split assets through equitable division. Instead of a 50/50 split, the court decides what split will be fairest to both parties.
But the military will only enforce the court’s decision on giving pension to the former spouse based on these factors:
- The service member must have residence in the court’s jurisdiction outside of military assignment
- The service member must have domicile in the court’s jurisdiction
- The member agrees to the court’s jurisdiction in the divorce
The court cannot split the pension unless its jurisdiction meets one of these requirements.
A military divorce can be very similar to any other divorce. But couples trying to divide a military pension in divorce follow different laws than civilians trying to divide pension plans. The two spouses should always seek legal counsel to make sure they understand what guidelines they need to follow.