Military Divorce Retirement Pension Rules: Key Changes Explained

Divorce can be challenging for anyone, but what does the law say about the benefits a former spouse is entitled to? We’ll discuss the basics service members should know about military retirement pay and divorce. This will help former military spouses and service members navigate the new military pensions and divorce rules. 

What is the Uniform Services Former Spouses Protection Act?

judge's gavel over black

The Uniform Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) is a federal law that covers how military retirement pay is treated in divorce cases. This law allows state courts ruling on a military member’s divorce to treat one’s military pension as divisible property. Until the 2017 rule changes, the USFSPA permitted state courts to split one’s retired pay in half based on the military pension’s value at one’s retirement.

The pension amount that a court may award to a former military spouse depends on different factors, such as the marriage length, the service member’s rank, and the service member’s military service years. It should be highlighted that the USFSPA only discusses military retirement benefits. 

Other benefits that service members or their families may receive aren’t considered assets in divorce cases. However, state courts may consider some of their income for child support calculation.

Defining Disposable Retirement Benefits

According to the USFSPA, a service member’s disposable retired pay is the total retired pay minus one or more of the following:

  1. Money owed by the service member for previous overpayments or recoupments
  2. Money deducted from court-martial fines, if applicable
  3. Money waived under Title 5 for Civil Service employment or under Title 38 for VA Disability compensation
  4. Survivor Benefit Plan premiums, but this applies only if the former spouse is also the named former spouse beneficiary of the pension
  5. Retired pay based on disability
  6. Money withheld for federal and state taxes

How Does the New Frozen Benefit Rule Work?

The new military pension division rule is a “rewrite” of the terms found in the USFSPA. This revision requires that military retired pay be divided according to one’s rank, years of military service, and divorce date.

Even though the military member may rise in rank and service years after, which would mean a larger pension, the amount would then be discounted using the ‘marital fraction.’ Hence, the pension division only applies to the benefit during the marriage.

The only changes will be cost-of-living adjustments made under 10 USC § 1401a (b) between the court order and the retirement date.

What is the 10/10 Rule?

The 10/10 Rule distinguishes which former military spouses are allowed to receive direct payment from the Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS). If the former spouse was wed to the military member for at least a decade of the military member’s creditable service, the 10/10 rule applies. 

It should be highlighted that direct payment isn’t necessarily automatic. It must be included in the state court order dividing the retired pay in the divorce. If there is more than one former spouse, payment orders are conducted on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

If the divorcing couple was wed for less than ten years of creditable service, the military personnel is responsible for paying their ex-spouse through state court-directed means. State court divisions of military retired pay should meet strict federal requirements as stated in the statute. The military retired pay is invalid if the state order doesn’t meet those criteria.

What is the 20/20/20 Rule?

The 20/20/20 Rule dictates that former spouses of military members are entitled to receive select military benefits if they satisfy the Rule’s conditions. These conditions include being married to a service member for at least 2 decades, that member rendering at least 20 years of service, and 20 years of overlap between the two. 

If a divorced couple satisfies these three conditions, the former spouse will most likely be allowed to keep their military ID card and receive other benefits. This might include medical benefits through TRICARE and commissary use. The divorced spouse can continue receiving these benefits if they remain un-remarried.

Moreover, a non-military spouse can temporarily continue their benefits, including a military ID card, if they meet the 20/20/15 Rule. The first two conditions of this Rule are similar to the 20/20/20 Rule, but it only requires 15 years of overlap between marriage and military service.

Duration of Payments to Former Spouse

As with divorces concerning non-military members, military members may be required to provide alimony or divorce payments for a long time. For marriages that lasted for at least 20 years, the non-military former spouse may be entitled to receive payments indefinitely. 

Couples who were wed for 10 to 20 years can expect to pay alimony for about 60 to 70 percent of the length of the marriage. Meanwhile, couples who were wed for five years or less may be awarded alimony for half of the length of the marriage.

Benefits of Former Long-Term Military Spouses

Former military spouses who satisfy the 20/20/20 Rule are entitled to more than just their former spouses’ military pay. These benefits are statutory and cannot be negotiated in the divorce. 

The former military spouse is entitled to lifetime military benefits, including commissary, medical, and military exchanges. If there is less than 20 but at least 15 years of overlap between the marriage and one’s years of military service, the former spouse is entitled to only one year of medical benefits. 

Medical benefits are available only if an employer’s health plan doesn’t cover the former spouse, and those benefits discontinue upon remarriage.

How Does a Military Divorce Affect Your Pension?

Depending on state laws, the court may treat one’s pension as marital property and include it when dividing up marital assets.

Because of this, it should be highlighted that a military pension is considered disposable retired pay and can factor into divorce proceedings just as much as alimony and any shared debt.

A veteran’s military pension might be deducted for alimony payments if the court decrees that they should divide military retired pay. However, the amount deducted would depend on several factors, including the duration of the marriage.


Understanding the rules regarding divorce and military retired pay is vital for both parties in the divorce to receive fair treatment and avoid complications. Both former spouses and service members should familiarize themselves with the law.

Different rules govern divorces involving active-duty service members. If former spouses need proof that their spouse is in the military, they can sign up at SCRACVS to verify their active duty status.


Does remarrying impact your right to receive Military Pension Payouts?

After a divorce, a service member’s former spouse is entitled to a portion of the service member’s military pension. Remarrying does not affect this.

What does a military wife get in a divorce?

It depends on how long they were married to the service member. Former spouses who satisfy the 20/20/20 Rule get to retain certain military benefits, such as medical benefits and entrance into the commissary. 

How long do you have to be married to get Military Benefits after divorce?

You must have been married for at least ten years to receive certain military benefits. 

How do I protect my pension after divorce?

To protect your pension after divorce, you need to hire a good defense lawyer who is well-versed in military law.

How much do military wives get paid?

Military wives’ payment would depend on various factors, including the member’s duration of service and rank. 

Can a military spouse get in trouble for cheating?

A military spouse who commits adultery may find themselves facing Administrative Disciplinary Action or Court Martial.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.