USFSPA paperwork being signed

Killeen Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) Lawyers

Explaining your rights to military benefits and retirement pay – serving Killeen, Harker Heights, Copperas Cove, and Central Texas

As a military spouse, you have access to many benefits and opportunities through your relationship with your partner. You also make a lot of sacrifices as their support system during their deployment and military career, perhaps taking care of your children and household while your spouse is on duty. When a marriage ends, however, many military spouses find themselves without the skills or experience necessary to find a job to support themselves. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) is a federal law enacted to financially protect spouses of service members after divorce.

Dividing benefits and assets during a divorce can be complex and difficult, even between two civilians. However, when dividing assets in military retirement accounts, different rules and regulations apply, and you can benefit from the services of an experienced lawyer to ensure you’re receiving the benefits to which you’re entitled. The Killeen military family law attorneys at the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm can help you make sense of the USFSPA and assert your rights to retirement benefits.

What is the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act?

Because Texas is a community property state, during a divorce, marital property and assets are divided between both parties in a fair and equitable manner. Similarly, if you or your spouse are in the military, retirement pay earned during the marriage is considered community property and can be divided during your divorce.

The USFSPA provides benefits to former spouses of military personnel, including:

  • Access to military exchanges and commissaries
  • Access to health care at military medical treatment facilities
  • Benefits for victims of spousal or child abuse
  • Portion of military retirement pension

A military pension is a type of retirement fund members of the armed forces receive after a minimum of 20 years of service (also called being “vested”). These funds cannot be cashed or early or borrowed against, but are considered marital property.

The USFSPA does not provide a formula to calculate how military benefits are divided. Our asset division lawyers can work with you to negotiate a divorce settlement that works for you now and in the future.

The 10/10 and 20/20/20 rules

The spouse of a service member is not automatically eligible for military benefits upon divorce. There are certain rules of eligibility, based on the length of your marriage and the length of time your spouse served in the military.

  • 10/10 Rule. This means you and your spouse were married at least 10 years, and your spouse served at least 10 years in the military. In the event of a divorce, as the non-military spouse, you can receive your share of your ex-spouse’s pension directly from the government (DFAS). If you were married less than 10 years, or your spouse served less than 10 years of eligible service, you may still be eligible for retirement benefits, but your spouse will have to pay them directly to you. This can be done via a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO).
  • 20/20/20 Rule. The longer your marriage and service, the more benefits to which you’re entitled. If you were married at least 20 years, your spouse has 20 years of military service, and 20 of those years overlap, you’re also entitled to medical benefits through TRICARE and commissary privileges.

There’s also an alternate 20/20/15 rule, where if the marriage and length of service only overlapped by 15 years, the non-military spouse may receive up to one year of full military medical benefits after the divorce.

Note that a non-military ex-spouse will lose medical benefits upon remarriage or purchase of private health care. However, they will not lose their share of retirement benefits.

Military pensions and alimony

Although Texas law governs the division of assets in a divorce, the USFSPA does afford the military spouse certain protections over their retirement fund. Because Texas is a community property state, a judge takes many factors into consideration when awarding spousal maintenance and support. These can include the length of the marriage, each spouse’s age and physical health, the earning capacity of each spouse and other things.

Sometimes the court may order a spouse’s military benefits be tied to a spousal maintenance or alimony award. However, as we mentioned earlier, the USFSPA puts limits on these awards with the 10/10 and 20/20/20 rules. Additionally, members of the military can’t be ordered to pay more than 50% of their income toward support. The military divorce attorneys at the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm can provide more detailed guidance about how spousal maintenance may affect a military pension.

Does retirement pay continue after the death of a service member?

A pension award for a former spouse will not continue in the event of a military member’s death unless there is a provision included in the order. This order is called the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and must either be awarded in the divorce agreement or chosen by the service member at the time of the divorce. The USFSPA allows either a current or former spouse to be designated as an SBP beneficiary. It’s important to review your divorce agreement with a qualified attorney to ensure your designees are set up in line with your wishes.

Killeen military retirement and pension attorneys

The rules surrounding military divorces and division of assets can get complicated. Ensure you secure the retirement benefits to which you’re entitled after supporting your spouse’s career defending our country. The attorneys at the Mary Beth Harrell Law Firm bring our knowledge to the table to advocate for you and your family. Contact us today at 254-680-4655 or by filling out our contact form. We have offices in Killeen and Copperas Cove, and handle in-custody visits for clients who cannot come to us.