Military Retirement: Does She Have to Get Half?

By Angela Foy

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

Clients of mine who are either active or retired military usually want to know if their ex-wife is entitled to half of their retirement benefits.

This is of great interest because in most divorces involving military service members, military retired pay is the largest asset subject to division.

So is it mandatory that she receives a portion of your retirement benefits?

In some states, including the state I practice in, the statutory presumption is that all marital property shall be divided equally between the two parties. The court can then adjust this division after considering a number of factors, including the length of the marriage, the age and physical and emotional health of the parties, or other factors the court determines to be relevant.

Marital property in Wisconsin is all assets and debts accumulated during the marriage or brought into the marriage by either party. The only excluded property is property that was inherited or gifted to only one of the parties.

The property does not even have to be in existence yet to be considered; property that is contingent or not vested is still marital property subject to division.

In most divorces involving military service members, military retired pay is the largest asset subject to division. The other spouse can waive any claim if her interest is offset with another asset.

Whether it should be divided, and if it should then how it should be divided, are all contingent on many factors, including your time of service and whether all of that time or part of that time was while you were married.

Another significant factor is whether support is needed for your spouse, in the form of maintenance, and her current and future earning capacity.

In addition to military retirement pay, you will also want to inquire about your Survivor Benefit Plan and your pension, if you have one through the Federal Employees Retirement System.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA, hereinafter “the Act”) was passed by Congress in 1982 to provide a State court with the authority to divide retired pay as marital property between spouses. The Act does not restrict the amount or percentage that the court may award to the former spouse.

However, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) will not directly pay the former spouse more than 50% of disposable retired pay. The military member would be responsible for paying anything over 50% if that is ordered.

As a military member, it is almost always to your advantage to specify the dollar amount. By using a dollar amount, the former spouse is not afforded a cost of living adjustment, so you would receive that portion added to your remaining portion of retired pay.

You should seek the help of an attorney to assist you in determining what exposure you may face for maintenance or family support and a financial advisor familiar with military retirement issues. Cordell & Cordell has attorneys that are licensed and located nationwide, and we would be happy to discuss your case with you.


Divorce Attorney Angela FoyAngela Foy is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisc., office of Cordell & Cordell where her primary practice is exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Foy is licensed to practice in the state of Wisconsin, the U.S. District Court, and the Eastern District of Wisconsin. 

 Ms. Foy received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She then continued on to receive her Juris Doctor from Marquette University.

End of Content Icon

5 comments on “Military Retirement: Does She Have to Get Half?

    I was married 17 yrs at time of divorce in 2013, he retired in 2015. Court awarded me a percentage at time of retirement, upon date of retirement. To date, i have not received retirement, because i was told he retired with 100% disability and that would not qualify me for retirement…
    Is this true?

    I was married to my ex for almost 11 years. When we divorced in 1999 he tricked me into signing papers so that I would receive 0% of his retirement. Is there a way to reverse this?

    I was married for 13 years to my military husband we divorced. We divorced in 1990 he retired from the military in 1994 after doing 20 years. Can I still file for part of the retirement in after these years. I needed a % amount in my divorce papers but it wasn’t written in when I sent my application to the Attorney General . I’m 62 & my ex husband is 62 years old. He remarried but I didn’t. Can I still file for part of the retirement ?

    I have been in the military reserve for 33 years. I joined in 1984 and attained the rank of Gunnery Sergeant (E7) just before completing 13 years and was not married until after I had more than 14 years in service. I was legally separated in 2014 and divorced in California in 2015. We were married 16 years. My ex-wife asked for 50% of the amount of my retainer points and I said “no”. She had already gotten the majority of assets and cash and left me with next to nothing. My attorney told me I needed to agree to it, as the judge would award it to her anyway. It was also ordered that I would have to pay more than $700 to have the case handled by a separate attorney who specializes in this type of thing. Because I am only 51 and am not able to collect until the year 2025, it is not a priority for me, but my ex has been hounding the attorney’s office who has also been hounding me to provide my points. I have told them I do not have the time right now and that it can wait and that I am going to try to have the decision reversed because my ex-wife has refused to work and become self-supporting. The attorney’s office sent me a letter stating that it was the recommendation of that office that she be awarded 50% of my entire retirement and that I am ordered to sign up for the RC-SBP even though we have been divorced more than one year. The letter also stated that I refused to provide the information, even though that is not true.

    My question is, can they award her 50% of the entire amount since we were not married during my first 14 years and are not married now. Also, can they order the SBP since we have been divorced more than one year and it was never addressed before now? Also, to your knowledge, has this kind of award ever been reversed or is it even possible?

    Are there any legal precedence in which a court denied a spouse a portion of the military retirement based upon conduct during the marriage such as adultery and abandonment?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *