For those brave men and women who serve our country and their spouses, divorce can offer some unique challenges when it comes to a former spouse's continued eligibility for commissary privileges, health benefits, and rights to some part of the service member's retirement pay. Familiarizing yourself with some of the provisions of the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act can help clarify the rights and protections granted to former spouses of military service members.
While the act does not directly give a service member's former spouse a portion of the retired pay, it does give a state the power to treat military disposable retired pay the same way it would treat other traditional marital property, which may be divided in a divorce. This may include division of the asset in the same way a civilian pension plan would be split up, or it can mean that the retired pay may be garnished to meet a service member's alimony child support and obligations. The extent of this practice varies from state to state.
In some cases, the USFSPA offers some privilege extensions that allow a former spouse of a service member to continue participating in commissary and exchange benefits, as well as continued health care benefits, following a divorce. This provision is generally limited to former spouses whose marriages lasted at least 20 years, to service members with at least 20 years of creditable service to their name, with the marriage and the service times overlapping by at least 20 years. These eligible spouses are referred to as "20/20/20 former spouses," and may be able to receive full continuing benefits.
Divorcing a service member can be an exceptionally difficult experience. While USFSPA provides some protections, they are heavily restricted. Anyone undergoing a divorce from a service member will find that the guidance of a qualified divorce attorney can ensure that his or her rights are protected while keeping the process civil and fair.
Source: military.com, "Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Overview," accessed Aug. 12, 2016