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Who can assist with military benefits and divorce?

Annapolis, MD |

My active duty spouse and I are headed to divorce court. We've been married nearly 20 years and retirement is on the horizon for them. I want to ensure the benefits I am entitled to are properly addressed when we're standing before the judge. The lawyer I've been speaking to doesn't appear to be as experienced in military retirement benefits as I need them to be. Help!

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Attorney answers 4


While this is one of the most common questions we see on this forum, it is actually not a Military Law question. Your lawyer may need to engage someone who is more experienced with military divorces than he is. Or, you may wish to consult with a different lawyer. I used to practice in Maryland, and if you want to e-mail me off line I would be happy to provide you the name of someone you can contact. Best of luck.

This post is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, nor does it establish an attorney client relationship with Mr. Cassara.


If you are not comfortable with the way your lawyer is handling your case, seek out another attorney in the area where your divorce case is filed and make sure the lawyer is able to answer all your questions concerning military retirement benefits before letting your other attorney go and hiring a new one.


Hire one who is! Call your state bar for a referral or try the avvo 'find a lawyer' tab.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. FOR EDUCATION AND INFORMATION ONLY. DO NOT RELY ON ANY ADVICE YOU RECEIVE FROM ME OR ANY OTHER ATTORNEY IN THIS FORUM. Legal advice comes after a complete review of the facts and relevant documents and an expressed (written) agreement of representation that forms attorney-client confidentiality. Neither of these two events can occur in this forum. Mr. Rafter is licensed to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the US Federal Courts in Virginia. His answers to any Avvo question are rooted in general legal principles--NOT your specific state laws. There is no implied or actual attorney-client relationship arising from this education exchange. You should speak with an attorney licensed in your state, to whom you have provided all the facts before you take steps that may impact your legal rights. Mr. Rafter is under no obligation to answer subsequent emails or phone calls related to this or any other matter.


You definitely need to hire an experienced attorney. Here is a short list of things you need to address both with your attorney and in court.

1. If you have been married for 20 years overlapping 20 years of military service, you are a 20/20/20 spouse and are eligible for lifetime Tricare medical benefits and some other rights (i.e. commissary and PX).

2. If you are not quite at the 20 year mark, you make want to delay, or do a legal separation. That way you can still reach the 20/20/2 mark.

3. If you achieve 20/20/20 status, you can lose Tricare coverage of you remarry, even if you later divorce spouse #2.

4. You may receive up to 50% of the military pension by direct payment from the DoD (DFAS). You should seek this as property division, and not as alimony. This will be yours even if you later remarry.

5. You may seek the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to continue pension payments after your ex-spouse dies, provided he passes before you do. But you cannot remarry or you lose this benefit.

These are some of the high points, but there are many more. Please hire someone who is familiar with this or who has the time to research it.

I hope this helps. Good luck.

Sharif Ahmed Abdrabbo

Sharif Ahmed Abdrabbo


I concur with Steven Shewmaker. The five items covered in his answer are all governed by the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act, 10 U.S.C. 1408. It is a federal law that provides the above protections to divorced spouses of military service members. Another thing to keep in mind is that a military retirement annuity is not governed by ERISA. Therefore, it is not properly divided and distributed via a QDRO, as other marital assets are. Separate documentation is required for the proper division and distribution of a military retirement annuity as part of a divorce settlement.

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