You Asked: How Much Of My Military Retirement Is My Spouse Entitled To?

Daniel Noffsinger - Saturday, June 14, 2014

Barracks lawyers. You know what I’m talking about. I was a barracks lawyer in a prior life. I literally stole a copy of the Uniform Code of Military Justice from the company office and walked around the barracks advising fellow soldiers of what their superiors “couldn’t do to them.” Turns out I was often wrong, but I think I got an A for effort.

 Somehow, our trusted barracks lawyers have failed us in properly advising on the ins and outs of military retirement division. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard, “well, we haven’t been married for 10 years yet, so my spouse isn’t entitled to any of my retirement.” Wrong! It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married, your spouse is entitled to a share if you retire and they elect to receive their portion. Sorry...not my rule.

 The amount that your spouse will receive when you retire, if elected, is nothing more than a mathematical share. I went to law school to try and avoid math, but apparently I wasn’t elusive enough. In Colorado family law, that mathematical share is called the Hunt/Gallo formula, or coverture formula. Named so probably because Hunt and then Gallo were probably the first two in Colorado to learn the painful truth about this law. The formula looks like this: ONE HALF of the number of months of service WHILE married, divided by total months of service.  An easy example looks like this: PFC Joe Snuffy was married to Carla Sue for a total of 120 months (or 10 years) all while in the military. PFC Snuffy retires after 240 months (or 20 years)…PFC Snuffy was an underachiever…The formula then says 120/240 = .5 (or 50%) then divided in half = .25 (or 25%). Joe Snuffy owes Carla Sue 25% of his military retirement for life once he retires. Easy, right?

 The other sad fact is that, during a dissolution of marriage case, military retirement is not considered a division of property that is offset against other property in the divorce. This is an entitlement that the non-service member spouse gets if they want it. That doesn’t mean bargaining chips don’t exist. 

 I’ll wrap up by telling you exactly where that 10-year myth came from. Once a military spouse has been married to a service member for 10 years while enlisted, they are eligible to receive their share of your retirement directly from DFAS by direct deposit. Less than 10 years and you are sending a check every month, for life. Don’t blame your barracks lawyer.