October 9, 2007 — Earlier this year, we detailed North Carolina legislation to protect the child custody rights of military personnel, and now comes more calls to change current military divorce law.
At the end of September, an unusual meeting was held at the Pentagon to discuss a 1982 military divorce law and its modern applications 25 years later. Military members and retirees are specifically calling for reform of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act, which allows state courts to include military retirement in property division during divorce settlements.
This heavily-debated law also allows ex-spouses who were married for 20 years to a military member to get anywhere from 50 to 65 percent of the retired military personnel's pension during divorce. That percentage may rise to the 65 percent range when taking into account common divorce issues like child support and alimony.
Military personnel have also called out stipulations in the 1982 military divorce law allowing ex-spouses who were married to a service member for at least 20 years and did not remarry following the divorce to receive survivor benefits, commissary, exchange privileges and medical coverage.
Those calling for reform of this law note the different circumstances since its initial passage. Trish Larabee, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, opined in a Stars and Stripes story that the law was enacted back in 1982 to protect women who followed their husband's military careers in good faith, only to be later dumped when the husband was promoted to a higher position .
Larabee asserted that with more women having their own careers nowadays, the law needs to be amended or totally eliminated. Air Force Maj. Janelle Quinn, a 20-year servicewoman, opined that soldiers need more education on this law.
Scheduled to leave the service next year, Quinn noted in the story that she will have to pay her ex-husband 17 percent of her retirement pay once she retires. Quinn added that she considers herself educated on her military benefits but admitted in the story that she did not know about this law until her divorce.
Mary Benzinger, an attorney in the Army's Legal Assistance Policy Division's Client Services Branch, was sympathetic with Quinn's situation, admitting that she gets a lot of complaints from military personnel about the lack of education concerning this military divorce law.
Benzinger noted that briefings like the September meeting at the Pentagon are needed for military personnel to get a better understanding of this military divorce law and to learn about proposed changes to it, as suggested by the Defense Department.
However, getting military personnel who have put their lives on the line for this country to check their emotions when it comes to this military divorce law has, to no surprise, been a big challenge.