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What Is The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA)?

What is the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA)?

The military lifestyle can put significant stress on a family. According to data provided by the Pentagon, nearly 22,000 active military members got divorced in 2017 alone. Many other military veterans went through a divorce as well. While military divorces are subject to the same overall law and procedure as civilian divorces, there are also some notable differences based on particular military-related issues. Among other things, military benefits and military retirement pay may become an issue in the separation.

If you or your partner is a current or former member of the United States Armed Forces and you are getting divorced, a federal law known as the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) could affect your case.

The USFSPA Grants Rights to Former Military Spouses

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act was enacted by the United States Congress in 1982. The purpose of this law is relatively straightforward: it provides a path to recovering some military benefits for the spouses of military members. Indeed, the USFSPA explicitly authorizes state family law courts to divide military benefits, potentially including retirement pay, in divorce proceedings when it is appropriate to do so.

In certain circumstances, the law allows the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to pay those benefits directly to a military spouse. More specifically, if there are at least ten years of marriage that overlap with ten years of military service, the DFAS may send benefits directly to the former military spouse after a divorce. To be clear, the USFSPA does not require military benefits to be divided in any particular manner. The division of assets will also be done on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the relevant state law as part of the divorce process, whether by agreement or by a state court.

Equitable Distribution Still Matters

Even if the USFSPA affects your divorce, Virginia’s general equitable distribution standard still matters. When dealing with military benefits in a divorce case, Virginia courts will always consider the totality of the circumstances. In other words, the USFSPA does not automatically ensure that a former military spouse will get access to a portion of a military member’s retirement benefits or any other military benefits. Whether or not military benefits will be awarded to a spouse depends entirely on the unique financial circumstances of each party. When going through a military divorce, it is crucial that parties seek guidance from a qualified legal professionals. A lawyer will be able to assess the case and determine what action should be taken to protect your financial interests.

Get Help From Our Virginia Military Divorce Attorneys Today

At Duff & Kronfeld, P.C., our Virginia family law attorneys have the skills and experience required to handle all types of military divorce cases. If you have questions or concerns about military benefits and your divorce, we are here to help. To schedule a fully confidential initial divorce consultation, please do not hesitate to contact us today. With an office in Fairfax, we are proud to serve communities throughout Northern Virginia, including Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties.

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