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How are retirement benefits divided in a military divorce?

Military divorce involves unique challenges and considerations, especially regarding the division of military pensions and the Thrift Savings Plan.

Understanding how Washington law applies to these benefits can help ensure a fair division of assets.

Division of military pensions in Washington

Washington treats military pensions as marital property. This means the non-military spouse is often entitled to a share of the military pension if it accrued during the marriage. Courts typically follow a formula that considers the length of the marriage overlapping with the service member’s military service.

Determining the spouse’s share

The specific portion that the non-military spouse receives depends on the length of the marriage during the service member’s time in the military. Washington courts commonly use a “marital fraction” to determine this amount. If a couple was married for 10 of the 20 years that the service member was active, the non-military spouse might receive 25% of the pension (half of the 50% deemed marital property).

The Thrift Savings Plan and divorce

The Thrift Savings Plan, similar to civilian 401(k) plans, is a retirement savings and investment plan for federal employees and members of the uniformed services. Like military pensions, the TSP is subject to division between spouses in a divorce. The division of the TSP account typically requires a court order that specifically addresses how the funds should be split. The division typically reflects contributions made during the marriage.

Vesting and accessibility of the TSP

Vesting in the TSP is straightforward: employees are immediately vested in their own contributions and their agency’s matching contributions. This means that from the moment an individual starts contributing to their TSP, they own their contributions and any associated matching funds. However, accessing the funds without penalty requires waiting until retirement age, much like a civilian 401(k) plan.

Navigating military divorce and retirement assets

Navigating a military divorce requires careful consideration of all assets. Both parties need to understand their rights and the laws that will affect their divorce settlement to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of assets.