Military advocates are pushing for alimony reform.
Advocacy groups are increasing pressure on lawmakers to reform an alimony law that can award ex-spouses of U.S. military service members as much as half their retirement pay until death.
Several states, including Florida, are contemplating reforms to permanent alimony. This has contributed to military members’ calls to revise the federal law.
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) of 1982 allows states to treat military pensions that are not disability-based as property that may be awarded to ex-spouses at up to 50 percent.
Opponents of the USFSPA say they should not have to hand over forever a large portion of the retirement pay they earned over 20 years of serving their country. They point out that military retirement does not constitute an end to all duties, but is reduced pay for maintaining a reserve status. They also point out that few other employees of the federal government are subject to such laws, including the Congress members who created it.
In an interview with Newsmax, Larry White of the USFSPA Liberation Support Group said, “We just don’t think the military should have special rules against it that don’t apply to others.”
But supporters of the law say that being a military spouse means sacrificing productive years and, often, inconvenient relocations in support of their spouses’ careers, according to Diane Mazur, a University of Florida law professor.
“The spouse [says]: ‘I gave my life to the military too, sometimes under difficult circumstances, and so I’ve earned part of that pension. It’s not fair for me to have to start out with nothing,’” Mazur told Newsmax. “A military pension attracts a lot of attention because usually that will be the asset of greatest value, by far.”
Congress created the USFSPA in 1982 in response to a Supreme Court decision the previous year that permitted a ban on the division of military pensions in divorces. The law allows for an officer’s spouse to be awarded half the retirement pay if he or she was married to the service member for the entire 20 years during which pension benefits accrue. The portion to which the ex-spouse is entitled is prorated if the marriage lasts for only a portion of those 20 years, and there is no minimum duration of marriage to qualify for a portion of the pay. This last point is of particular concern to critics of the law.
Opponents concede that the law was necessary in the past. Military spouses were often left to perform child-raising and homemaking tasks almost entirely on their own, leaving them with little to no skills or education necessary to join the workforce after divorcing. Now, critics say, spouses are able to get a college education, seek employment, and contribute to their own retirement savings while married.