Dividing retirement pay (a pension) for a servicemember is complicated, and splitting it up when the servicemember has been in the Guard or Reserves is even more complex. Why? Servicemembers in the National Guard and the Reserves aren’t necessarily “employed” for a continuous time. They attend training on the weekends and twice per year if they aren’t on active duty. During this time, they are credited “points” toward qualifying service they need to be eligible for “non-regular” retired pay”. This is unlike active duty servicemembers who are employed continuously for a year and it makes computing the marital portion of the pension and preparing the pension division order more difficult.
To be eligible for “non-regular” retired pay, a servicemember has to:
- Be at least 60 years old
- Have at least 20 years of “qualifying service” (USC §12732)
- Have spent the last 6 years as Active Reserve
The amount of retired pay depends on the number of points acquired during the minimum 20 years of service. To earn one of those 20 minimum years of service, a servicemember needs to obtain a “good year” for retirement purposes which means they must acquire 50 points in a year. The military provides a RPAS (points statement) to the servicemember. Retirement benefits are based on a formula which is based on years of service, which are based on points. During the years that a servicemember is married, a wide range of points that count toward the formula may be earned, which affects the proportional amount of the pension the spouse may get in divorce. Are you confused yet? It’s complicated!
There is a myth that a servicemember must have 10 years of service in order for the spouse to receive a portion of his or her retirement pay. A military pension may be divided by court order whether the spouse has 30 years of marriage to the servicemember or 30 days of marriage. Rather, this time requirement is a prerequisite to enforcement through DFAS (Defense Finance Accounting Service). For a spouse to be paid directly by the DFAS (which is preferable), there must be 10 years of service.
When there are ten years of combined Guard/Reserve and active service, DFAS will aggregate them to allow the ten-year rule to be met. It should be noted that being in the Guard or Reserves for 10 years is not necessarily the same thing as “having ten good years” which are creditable toward retirement. A “good year” is one in which the Guard/Reserve servicemember has accumulated at least 50 points.
For the DFAS to divide military retirement pay (rather than the servicemember paying the spouse directly), a Military Pension Division Order (MPDO) must be prepared and sent to the appropriate designated agent for payments. The retirement division order has to be carefully prepared, particularly if the servicemember retires but is still drilling.
This just skims the surface of the complex rules relating to retirement pay for Guard and Reserve servicemembers and is meant to point out that when a servicemember and his or her spouse are going through a divorce, working with someone who is well versed in splitting military retirement pay is imperative. I’ve put the time and effort in to learn the ins and outs of military benefits in divorce because I’m grateful for their service and don’t want costly mistakes to be made!!!!