A military wife should research and understand her rights to different types of federal benefits upon divorce from a U.S. veteran or service member. The divorce will likely affect her rights immediately upon divorce, as well as in the future during older age and retirement. A wife with a current divorce case might want to consult with a military divorce attorney regarding her rights, while a divorced wife may need to speak with an attorney if she currently isn't receiving adequate support or benefits.
Wage Garnishment for Alimony
Federal law permits wage garnishment of a federal employee's wage earnings, which include his salary, commissions, retirement earnings and pension benefits, under certain circumstances. A divorced military wife may be able to obtain wage garnishment from her husband's military wages and benefits. The wage garnishment may go toward court-ordered alimony or child support if she has children with the military service member. Federal law allows a wage garnishment of up to 50 percent from a veteran's disposable earnings if he has since remarried and currently supports a new spouse or child. If the veteran doesn't have a new spouse or child, wage garnishment of up to 60 percent may occur. To obtain wage garnishment, however, a wife must meet the criteria in federal law and follow specified procedures under state law, such as the requirements to obtain a court order for spousal support and enforcement of the support order.
Benefits Through Court Order in Divorce
A divorced military wife may have federal benefits assigned to her as part of a court order in the couple's divorce or through the divorce decree. The divorce order might require division of the veteran's retirement benefits to give a share to the former wife. A court order might also require the veteran to continue health insurance coverage for his children or former wife under a federal benefits program. In addition, the terms of the couple's divorce might require the veteran to maintain life insurance through a federal employees' group plan or another plan for which he is eligible, with his former wife or child as the beneficiary.
A divorced military wife may also be eligible for survivor benefits after divorce. The Office of U.S. Personnel Management permits a member to select an ex-spouse as the recipient of survivor benefits. The ex-spouse may also obtain a court order requiring the veteran to select her for survivor benefits. An ex-wife's survivor benefits will generally end, however, if she remarries before the age of 55.
Social Security Benefits
A divorced military wife may still be eligible to receive Social Security benefits earned by her ex-husband during his employment or military service. The criteria to receive Social Security benefits earned by an ex-husband depend on whether the ex-husband is currently alive or deceased. If he is deceased, an ex-wife who has not remarried and is at least 62 years of age may be able to collect Social Security benefits if the couple's marriage lasted for at least 10 years.
- U.S. Department of Labor: Fact Sheet #30: The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act's Title 3 (CCPA)
- U.S Office of Personnel Management: Court-Ordered Benefits for Former Spouses
- U.S Office of Personnel Management: Survivor Benefit Elections, Court-Ordered Benefits, and Children's Benefits
- Social Security Online: What Every Woman Should Know