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How do courts divide up military pensions during a divorce?

If you have served in any branch of the Armed Forces for the requisite number of years, you have earned the security of a military pension. That pension is the result of years of hard work, discipline and dedication. If you have an impending divorce, you may be concerned with the judge granting all of it – or a significant portion of it – to your ex-spouse.

How courts divide pension plans

A federal law called the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act establishes how courts handle military pensions when it comes time to divide assets. Under the Act, state divorce courts can treat military pensions exactly like pensions earned in the private sector. The court will use the same formula for dividing your pension as they would for any non-military pension.

When preparing a division of property order, courts will categorize your property into two categories – separate and marital property. Generally speaking, separate property is anything you obtained before your marriage, while marital property is anything you obtain while you were married. There are some exceptions and special circumstances in which separate property can become marital property.

When looking at your pension, the court will determine the percentage of your contributions – and the interest that accrued from them – that you added to the pension account before your marriage and during your marriage.

The portion of your total pension account that you earned before your wedding day is separate property, and you will be able to keep it. The portion you earned during your marriage will be added to the total amount of marital property that is subject to division by the court.

Each state follows different rules as to how they divide marital property. Pennsylvania follows the equitable distribution method, meaning that they divide marital property in a manner that is fair for the couple’s individual situation. When deciding what constitutes a fair distribution, courts consider things such as each spouse’s education level, earning capacity and overall health.

This means that there is no clear-cut way to determine beforehand exactly what percentage of the marital portion of your pension that the court will give to your spouse. You can rest assured knowing that at least the pre-marital portion of your hard-earned military pension will be safe from division.