Can I Get a Piece of My Husband’s Military Pension After Divorce?

The U.S. military offers one of the best retirement systems in the world. After 20 years of service, a service member can retire and receive 50% of their base pay for the rest of their lives, with cost-of-living increases thrown in just for fun. If you are (or were) married to one of the estimated 1.43 million men or women in uniform, then you have a claim on your spouse’s pension. However, this is a tricky subject, and you have some important decisions to make.

How Much Do You Get?

How much of that juicy military pension are you entitled to? That answer to that question will depend on a variety of factors. First, it will depend on where your divorce is filed. Different states have different laws regarding how assets are divided in a divorce. Since military families tend to move often, determining the correct jurisdiction might not be easy. You’ll need to divorce in a state where your spouse is a resident or “domiciled.” Another option is for you both to agree together on a state.

Next, the amount you receive will also depend on the length of your marriage and how many years your spouse was in the military during that marriage. The longer you were married while your spouse was in the military (and the farther along in his career he was), the greater your entitlement.

It’s a good idea to hire a divorce attorney with expertise in military divorces. Your lawyer can make the correct calculations or hire a professional actuary to make the calculations to help settle on a number. Once you have a martial share outlined, you’ll need to make an important decision.

Lump Sum or Wait and See?

If your spouse still has many years left before he plans to retire, it could be a long wait until you access your share of his military pension. For many reasons it might be a good idea to trade your share of the future pension for more assets now (like full equity in your home).

This is a calculated risk, but by taking a lump sum, you get a sure thing rather than possibly getting nothing. For instance, what happens if your ex-husband simply decides to leave the military before retirement and never qualifies for a pension? What if he is dishonorably discharged? What if he dies before he has a chance to retire?

The wait-and-see approach also means it could take a decade or more before you see the first penny of your ex-spouse’s pension benefit. Many women can’t afford to wait, especially military wives who often drop out of the workforce, because keeping a job is highly difficult when a family must pick up and move every few years.

It is always best to speak with an experienced divorce attorney before making big divorce decisions, such as whether to take a lump sum payment or wait ‘til your ex-husband retires. (You may also want to consider taking a lump sum payment instead of monthly alimony. Here’s why.) You can also get some great advice at your local Second Saturday Divorce workshop.

 

13 thoughts on “Can I Get a Piece of My Husband’s Military Pension After Divorce?”

  1. Fredelisa P. Wells

    i am married a US military 20 yrs in service living in Philippines i did not know if he put me as his VA benificiary can i get a pension from him? 9 yrs living together i doubt it. please help me enlightend my mind. thank you.

    1. If you were married during his years of active service, in divorce or legal separation you are probably entitled to a portion of his military pension, which would be 50% of the marital interest, which is measured by the service credits earned while you were married divided by his total service credits.

  2. Suzanne McCaffrey

    If I was married to my husband after he retired from the military can I still receive his pension in our divorce?

      1. I’m helping my mother with her finances and we have a similar question. She was married to my father during all of his active military years (30+ years) and he took a joint and survivor option for his pension when he retired. They got divorced about 10 years after his retirement; how could my mother determine what she might be entitled to as beneficiary to his military pension?

        1. If she is to get the survivor benefit, then she will receive whatever was elected. For example if she knows how much he receives and what percentage of that is the survivor benefit (e.g., 50% of 100%) she can figure out what she will receive after his death. If she doesn’t have that information, and she can’t research it by looking at the documents she amassed during the divorce, I don’t know what she can do. Maybe the finance office will give her that information, or maybe she can ask him to get that information for her.

  3. I am divorced 6 yrs from a 16 yr marriage- ( im his 2nd wife) hes now remarried. He served 20 yrs active/was with him 9 yrs 8 months of his service- he now works with Federal almost 15yrs. Couple questions-How can I find out when he retires-am I able to get part of his Pension/Retirement?. Divorced in Delaware I was awarded 50 % of the years married for Alimony/Spousal Support- (so i got 96 months of alimony). Am I entitled to get part of his Pension? Do i have to take him back to court for his Pension or just have to file? And where do I file if I am allowed. Secondly- I was awarded Survivor benefits- and he had to pay me directly- well he stopped this within the year of our Divorce- (after he got remarried). Am I still entitled to these benefits?Or does it stop once he remarries. I just havn’t been able to afford a lawyer to take him to court? Any help you can give me is VERY MUCH APPRECIATED.

    1. Look at your divorce agreement to see what you are entitled to. If it says that you are awarded part of his pension/retirement, then you are entitled to that portion. Since you were married less than `0 years during his service, then I don’t think that you can get paid directly by the military, so you’d need to have him pay you your portion. As for the SBP survivor benefit, if the divorce agreement said that he was to maintain that coverage, then he is to maintain that coverage unless it says “until he remarries” in which case it would be only until he remarries. If he is supposed to pay you pension or anything else directly and he doesn’t, then you will likely have to take him back to court for enforcement. I suggest that you call the county clerk at the courthouse in your area and ask how you can do that.

  4. As I was sitting with my phone in my hands thinking about my sad life and my children future. I went and googled what you do when your spouse decided to leave you without anything, I was in arm track train traveling from Richmond VA to New York City. I have learned so much from reading all those articles about divorce. I was so brainwashed by my husband leaves me no choice but think I was so stupid. Not after I read these articles. I’m definitely a change person from tonight. Thank you for the proper idea and understanding how to go about doing the right things and ask the proper question for a better future, I have acknowledge what is your rights and what to look for. In many divorce cases a home keeping wife and mothers suffered the most. Because their are always home doing their best for that husband and family only to find out their are being treated like a slave with no rewards. I think those spouses should be taken into consideration and have better support in the court of law. Thank you

  5. I found out that the man on my birth certificate was not My father. My Biological father died when I was 13 yrs. Old . My mom abandoned me @ 12 yrs.old and I was homeless. Would, I be entitled to any of My fathers SS for thoses yrs ( 13 to 19 yrs ). MY mothers ex husband is listed as my father on my birth certificate . Both My parents we married @ the time I was conceived . Iam 50 yrs .old now and on SSID.

    1. I don’t know. I would think the father on your birth certificate would be considered to be your father. And that after all these years, at age 50 you won’t be entitled to children’s benefits. But go ahead and ask them and find out for sure. I’m just guessing.

  6. Hi I am at the tail end of a divorce, at least I hope it’s the tail end. It’s been dragging on across 2 states since July 2020. He’s retired and was in the military and I’m going to have to do a FERS pension thing and I am hearing that is very difficult to do. Takes many months and they don’t like ex-spouses. It cannot be done until after the divorce decree has been awarded. Thinking of signing up for second Saturday sessions to address this and other issues.
    ~ Darcy Starr

    1. I get your frustration at how long this has taken and how much is involved. But I assure you, millions of military members get divorced every year, and many of those divorces involve a FERS pension, so there is no mystery to the procedures for getting this done, and you simply have to follow those procedures. If you don’t, and struggle to do it your way, it will indeed become very difficult, as you’ve heard. As for “them” not liking ex-spouses, they neither like nor don’t like ex-spouses, they simply follow the laws as written. Those laws are, in my opinion, written to favor the military member in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, but they are not applied capriciously against ex-spouses to make their lives difficult. They are what they are, they’ve been in place for many years, and what there is to do is follow the procedure step by step. And PS, the division of military pensions don’t necessarily take any longer than the division of any other pensions, they all take way too long.
      As for attending Second Saturday, we would love to have you attend But don’t expect to get specific legal advice tailored to your situation. It is informational, geared to address the general concerns of the attendees, and is aimed at people thinking of or in the early stages of divorce. That said, I’m sure that you will get something out of it.

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