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Florida military divorce: division of retirement benefits

Military divorce is, in many ways, similar to civilian divorce. There are important issues to be resolved surrounding child custody, alimony/spousal support and property division just as in any other divorce.

For active duty servicemembers, child custody is sometimes not at issue; when one spouse isn't military and subject to frequent, unpredictable, long-term deployments, that spouse has a decided advantage where custody is concerned. Child support is likewise often uncontested, because a non-military spouse who receives full custody will be entitled to financial support, sometimes in a higher than normal amount to make up for the additional time spent with the child during deployments.

Unlike civilian divorce, however, there may be difficulties determining where to file (particularly if the divorcing servicemember is deployed or on assignment in another jurisdiction), who should file, service of papers and more. One of the biggest differences between military and civilian divorces concerns the division of assets.

In a civilian divorce, the division of assets typically involves such things as the marital home, vehicles, personal property, joint banking and checking accounts and vested retirement accounts. Not to say that dividing these assets is necessarily easy, but they are, in most cases, relatively straightforward. Florida law dictates that an equitable division of property occur, which doesn't necessarily dictate that things be split 50/50, only that the property allocation be fair under the circumstances.

The biggest asset in most military divorces is not the marital home (since many active duty military couples live in base or government housing), vehicles or a joint checking account: it is the servicemember's retirement fund. Once a servicemember has been in the military for 20 years, he or she is entitled to a lifetime pension upon retirement. If the divorcing spouse has been with the servicemember for at least 10 years, the spouse may be entitled to a significant portion of the retirement benefits.

The division of that asset is one of the most highly contested issues in some military divorces, along with a claim to a portion of the servicemember's Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). The SBP ensures that benefits continue to flow to the divorced spouse after the servicemember's death. Without the protections offered by the SBP, the retirement benefits would be much less akin to a pension and much more akin to alimony/spousal support.

These issues and more are why servicemembers at Eglin AFB, Hurlburt Field, Information Warfare Training Command Corry Station (formerly known as the Center for Information Dominance Corry Station) and the Pensacola NAS should only trust their divorce to someone with experience handling the unique issues and nuances of military marital dissolution. Contact a local military divorce attorney for more information if you are considering ending your marriage.

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