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Why dividing a military pension may be harder than you think

There is no doubt that those men and women who decide to enlist in our nation's armed forces to protect and serve our country are committing to a lifestyle that can prove to be hard not just on them, but on their families. Indeed, prolonged deployments, frequent relocations and an altogether demanding lifestyle are often the norm.

This sacrifice has not gone overlooked by the U.S. government, however, as our nation's armed forces personnel are granted some excellent benefits, including a military pension, which can become incredibly valuable as a person rises in rank.

In fact, many experts identify a military pension as the most valuable asset in any military marriage and, by extension, any military divorce.

If you are tempted to think that military pensions are somehow not subject to division in a divorce, this is far from the case, as all 50 states recognize military pensions as a form of marital property.

The situation is perhaps even more serious for military personnel in community property states, as civilian spouses are automatically entitled to close to half of the value of their spouse's military pension.

Curiously, this wasn't always the case, as the Supreme Court of the United States once ruled that military pensions weren't to be treated as community property. This changed in the 1980s, however, with Congress' passage of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act, which essentially declared that military pensions are indeed community property.   

As difficult as this reality can be for those who have committed much of their professional working life to the military, it's important to note that some community property states have at least taken steps to alleviate this hardship.

For example, here in Texas, a civilian ex-spouse's interest in a military pension is tied to the rank and grade of their ex-military spouse at the time of their divorce, not their final rank and grade at the time of retirement.

What all of this serves to underscore is that there are very complex issues at play in military divorce and, as such, those spouses looking to leave a military marriage should give very strong consideration to speaking with a legal professional with extensive experience in this area.

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