Alaska is home to a number of military bases representing the Air Force, Army, and Coast Guard. The challenges of military life can weigh heavily on a marriage, particularly where one spouse has been deployed to a combat zone. Peggy A. Roston has represented both service members and spouses in divorce cases. She has extensive experience with helping these clients understand the federal statutes which apply to military divorces, as well as Alaska’s marital and domestic relations laws. If you are considering a divorce, Ms. Roston will work to protect your interests.
Military Divorce in Alaska
In order for the court to have jurisdiction over the marital estate under Alaska law, the parties must have lived in Alaska as a couple for more than six months in the last six years. For the court to have jurisdiction over custody, the child must have been physically present in Alaska for six months prior to the date of filing.
Military Divorce Laws
In addition to the special rules for jurisdiction over a military pension, there are laws in place to protect active-duty military members from having to participate in a divorce proceeding under certain circumstances. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the member is entitled to an initial 90-day stay of proceedings upon making the proper showing.
The trial court has the discretion to enter an additional stay if military service would cause the member to be absent or if it would materially impair the member’s ability to participate in the divorce. This law is designed to protect military members from being taken advantage of while serving the nation. However, an active-duty service member can waive the right to have the divorce proceedings postponed.
The military also has specific rules regarding child support and spousal support to ensure service members fulfill family support obligations. The court can enforce these obligations by court order, wage garnishment, or voluntary or involuntary allotment.
Military Pensions and Benefits
As with any divorce, a key issue in a military divorce is the division of property, including retirement pay which is ultimately based on how long a military member serves. Thus, the pension in a long-term military marriage could ultimately be the single largest asset.
In particular, military pensions are governed by the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA). Under USFSPA, 10 U.S.C. sec. 1808(c)(4), a state may exercise jurisdiction over a service member’s pension rights if: (1) the state is the domicile of the member, (2) the member consents to jurisdiction or (3) the member resides in the state for reasons other than military assignment in the state. Resolving disputes under this statute can be complicated because a member’s domicile is not necessarily the same as the member’s state of residence. Given the complexity of jurisdiction in a military divorce case, it is imperative that the member or the member’s spouse consult with an attorney with experience in military divorce cases.
Under Alaska law, the court has the authority to divide the marital portion of the member’s retired pay. The marital portion is a fraction – the numerator of which is benefits accrued between the date of marriage and date of divorce, and the denominator of which is benefits accrued during the member’s entire career but only through the date of divorce under the new so-called “frozen benefit” law. The benefits accrued are measured in terms of months for active duty members or points for guard or reserve members. . If the member served on active duty, then only the months of service are counted. If the member was only in the reserves, then points are counted. If the member served on active duty and then as a reservist, the points accrued during reserve time are converted to months for calculating the marital fraction.
If the marriage lasted at least ten years, and this period overlapped with ten years of military service, the former’s spouse’s share of the pension benefit is paid directly by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). If the length of the marriage was less than ten years, then DFAS will not pay the former spouse’s share. Instead, the court may order a retiring service member to pay a former spouse directly or through an allotment.
Military Disability Pay
It is common for service members to receive a disability rating as a result of their service. If a member has a disability rating of 50% and has served 20 years, then the member is entitled to Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP). This means the member will receive retirement and disability pay. If the member is not entitled to CRDP, then the member’s monthly retired pay will be reduced by disability pay. Since disability pay is not subject to division in a divorce, it is imperative that the non-member know whether the member qualifies for CRDP in which case, the full amount of the retired pay is subject to division in a divorce.
In addition to pension benefits, under the so-called “20-20-20” rule, a former spouse of a military member is eligible for full lifetime medical benefits, commissary and exchange privileges.The 20-20-20 rule requires:
- The marriage lasted at least twenty years
- The military member served at least twenty years
There was at least a twenty-year overlap of the marriage and military service
A former spouse meeting the 20-20-20 requirements is eligible for lifetime medical benefits unless he or she is covered under an employer-sponsored plan. However, if the former spouse remarries, eligibility for medical and all other benefits terminates.
Experienced Military Divorce Attorney
Peggy Roston has been representing members of the armed services and their families for over twenty-six years. Although going through a divorce is a painful experience for any couple, she recognizes that military families face unique challenges. For this reason, it is crucial to have a skilled advocate on your side. Peggy has extensive experience handling military divorce cases and protecting the rights of military families.
Located in Anchorage, the Law Offices of Peggy A. Roston serves clients in Fairbanks, on the Kenai, in the Mat-Su Valley and throughout the state of Alaska. Contact Peggytoday to schedule a consultation.