In any divorce, assets and debts must be divided. This can include things like stock options and retirement accounts. Military spouses in California should know that things may be different for them, however. Some military benefits can be divided during a divorce while others may be accessed by paying for them out of pocket. There are some benefits that an ex-spouse cannot qualify for.
Military pension benefits
Military members receive a pension. This can be divided between the spouses, but it depends on the length of service, the length of the marriage and how much those numbers overlap. If the marriage and service period is 10 years or greater, the military will pay pension benefits directly to the ex-spouse after the divorce.
In recent years, a Thrift Savings Plan has also been made available to military service members. This is much like a 401(k) where the service member makes contributions, and the military matches them. Like a 401(k), the Thrift Savings Plan may be divided in a divorce. It is possible to roll part of this over into another instrument like an IRA.
Service members may be entitled to a number of other benefits, too. Ex-military spouses are entitled to continued health care benefits for up to three years. This is much like the idea behind a civilian COBRA plan. For people who were married 20 years that overlapped with at least 20 years of military service, they are entitled to the same level of benefits as if they were still married to the service member.
Disability payments from the Veterans Administration are not considered an asset that may be divided in a divorce. Education benefits under the GI bill may be transferred to an ex-spouse, though.
There are a lot of details that affect military benefits for divorcing couples. It’s a good idea for military couples to familiarize themselves with some of these nuances before divorce proceedings start.