All jobs have unique traits that set them apart. Work often becomes a career: a part of your identity. It’s especially true that life in the military is unlike any other career path. Civilian life is different, and so are civil matters.
When a military member seeks divorce, state laws apply, but military status greatly affects the situation. As a military member in the state of California, state law will define child custody, child support and division of property. The unique aspects of military life—the frequent relocation, possibility of deployment, and complex retirement benefits—require special attention.
A new military system
As of Jan. 1, the US military introduced a new retirement system, the Uniformed Services Blended Retirement System. Anyone beginning service this year will subscribe to this program. It’s more complicated for pre-enlisted members, however. Depending when you joined, you may have been eligible to join into the more modern blended system. Most military members who enlisted prior to 2018, though, remain on the legacy system.
Complex retirement accounts
While the purpose of the new Blended Retirement System is modernization, most divorcing couples fall under the legacy system. Issues such as the length of your marriage will affect what happens in divorce.
Any property acquired during marriage belongs to both parties. In divorce, that property is split both ways. Legally speaking, retirement accounts are property. Unlike physical property like a house or car, a pension cannot be cut in half. Regulations control when and how money is distributed, which requires a methodical approach in divorce to make sure that each side receives an equal share. Taxes, fees, withdrawal penalties or miscalculating growth can shift values so they benefit one party over the other.
Key differences between civilian and military plans
While civilian retirement accounts are also complex, there is greater understanding of them in mainstream culture. Pensions are less common, as civilian plans lean toward personal investments and company-sponsored plans like 401(k) accounts. When considering divorce, it’s essential that you choose an attorney who understands your personal situation. An attorney with knowledge of military retirement accounts and other critical cultural differences is vital to reaching an agreement that serves your best interests.