Legal Center:  Who Owns What


In a long-term marriage involving years of active duty service a military pension can be one of the largest assets.

Senior enlisted personnel frequently retire in their forties after 20 years' active service and receive a lifetime pension of one half their basic pay. Payments can range anywhere from about $1,200 to several thousand dollars per month. 

Given a 40-year life expectancy after retirement, a military pension asset can be worth from $590,000 to more than $2 million, not reduced to present value and not including cost of living or inflation increases.

In the event that the parties have been married for at least ten years, it is possible to obtain an order that the military actually directly pay the non-military spouse their share of benefits. This is done under The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (the Act), 10 U.S.C. 1408 which allows for a state court to distribute military retired pay to a spouse or former spouse and provides a method of enforcing these orders through the Department of Defense. The Act itself does not provide for an automatic entitlement to a portion of the member's retired pay to a former spouse. 

A former spouse must have been awarded a portion of a member's military retired pay as property in their final decree of divorce, dissolution, annulment, or legal separation (the court order). The Act also provides a method of enforcing current child support and/or arrears and current alimony awarded in the court order.

In the event one cannot meet the 10-year rule, it is still possible to split the pension as marital property. However, enforcement may be a problem since payments cannot be obtained directly from Defense Finance under federal law and regulations.

In order to apply for payments under the Act, a completed application form (DD Form 2293) signed by a former spouse together with a certified copy of the applicable court order certified by the clerk of court within 90 days immediately preceding its service on this Center should be served either personally or by facsimile or by mail, upon the:

Defense Finance and Accounting Service
Cleveland Center, Code L
PO Box 998002
Cleveland, Ohio 44199-8002
(216) 522-5301 (Customer Service)

If the requirements of the Act have been met, payments to a former spouse must begin no later than 90 days after the date of effective service of a complete application. 

If the member has not yet retired at the time the former spouse submits his or her application, payments must begin no later than 90 days after the date on which the member first becomes entitled to receive retired pay.