Divorce in the military: Why you need a specialist lawyer

Relationship upheaval in any job is hard to deal with. Relationship upheaval in the military is different as it’s not just a job, but a lifestyle, an all-consuming career with little room for life’s upheavals, which means you need to get your choice of legal adviser right, from the word go.

Topics to be answered in this article

Military divorce in a nutshell

The law is the same for civilians as it is for members of the Armed Forces – there is no special treatment in divorce or separation

Since the introduction of no-fault divorce in April 2022, the divorce itself is relatively straightforward.  The complexity arises from settling finances.

How finances are settled is a complex area of law.  Unfortunately, there is no online calculator that will tell you, on the basis of some supplied figures, what you would be “entitled” to on divorce.  Some general principles apply;

  • Length of marriage is important;

  • Whether the case is a sharing case, a needs case or a compensation case;

  • What the relative values of the assets are;

  • Are there children? If so what are their needs and with whom do they live;

  • You and your spouse’s ages;

  • Ability to earn a living.

There are other factors, but the fact is that EVERY case is different.  Just because you know someone who had to give up two thirds of their pension does not mean that the same applies to your case.  These factors have a different weight depending on their importance in your circumstances.

Military divorce and pensions

Even a relatively short marriage with one party serving can generate significant arguments over the serving spouse’s pension.

The Armed Forces pensions remain generous and are non-contributory.  However, it is highly likely that a serviceperson is a member of one or more schemes available, those usually being AFPS 75, and AFPS 05.  Reserve service personnel (which could include someone with full time service, leaving, joining the reserves and enrolling on that scheme) could also be on the RFPS 05.  Don’t forget the FTRS 97 scheme, which was the forerunner to this!

The point is that the military pensions are a minefield for the unwary.  There are traps and pitfalls aplenty, and it is wise to ensure that your legal adviser has a great working knowledge of the scheme differences and what that means for you.  There are differences about what can be shared, ages that pensions may be claimed from, and whether they can generate lump sums when they’re taken.

A pension is often a more valuable asset than the marital home.  It is not uncommon for service personnel to be surprised that their pension is worth far more than the equity available to them in the marital home.  The equity is what remains to be shared between divorcing couples after the mortgage and other costs are paid back.

Tips & advice for military pensions

  • Ensure your adviser knows the differences between the pension schemes. It has an impact on negotiations.

  • Do not discount the value of the pension in a relationship.  Military life and the way that assignments work mean that a military spouse often has a hard time managing to keep a career going in the knowledge that there is an assignment every two to three years.  This often means an imbalance in the pension available to each spouse.

  • It is tempting to think about the immediate needs of the family now, rather than your pension needs out into the future.  Be aware that giving up a stake in a pension to offset the value in a property can be done, but it may not be wise.

  • Pensions are complex.  Non contributory ones even more so as valuing them is difficult.  Be aware that by a serviceperson reaching an immediate pension point in service, the value of their pension goes up significantly.  This is because rather than a pension starting at normal retirement age, say 60 or 65, it is assumed that the pension goes into payment immediately and is paid over a longer period of time.  Thus the value is increased.

At Goughs, we work closely with the Forces Pension Society, which is an independent, not-for-profit membership funded organisation that acts as a pension watchdog for the whole military community. The Society guides its members on the technical aspects of their Armed Forces Pension, campaigns against any injustices in the policy provision or mal-administration of Armed Forces Pensions, and educates the wider Armed Forces community on all pension matters.

Military divorce and children

This can be less of an issue than finances, and will generally follow the “normal” pattern for non military divorces.  There can however be some significant challenges with a service divorce that involves children.  The following are important factors that your legal adviser needs to be aware of;

  • A service person might be living in single accommodation making it impossible to have the children over to stay regularly or at all.

  • Welfare flats or surplus accommodation to allow overnight visits are in high demand on bases and not always available.

  • Postings, assignments, exercises or operations all make regular contact tougher than for civilians in normal jobs, making child arrangement orders tricky to negotiate when communication between parents is difficult.

Your legal adviser needs to be alive to these issues when acting for you in a dispute over children so that any court order dealing with contact arrangements can take these sorts of factors into account.

Why choose Goughs to help with a military divorce?

Goughs is committed to delivering the best for those who serve, have served and are partners of service personnel in everything that we do.  We understand what life is like for this sector of the community. In particular, Mark Hood, leading the Goughs’ Armed Forces team, has walked in these shoes and served for 20 years.  The Armed Forces sector team has been selected from those with connections to the forces community or with a deep interest in it.

We offer free half hour consultations and a 10% discount on all of our fees as a part of our service, and we can communicate with you wherever you might be based (except nuclear submariners at sea!).

We are also signatories to the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant (find our pledge here), and have been awarded Silver Employer Recognition Scheme status

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Author Bio

Mark Hood

I completed a twenty-year Army career in the Royal Logistic Corps as an officer gaining particular experience in delivering training, recruiting officers, project management, advising governments, operations and planning, and even running a string of British Forces Post Offices. Changing tack to pursue a career in the law, many of the skills learned in the Army have proved directly transferable to this role.

I studied for my Graduate Diploma and Legal Practice Certificate at the University of Law in Bristol, completing the latter with distinction. I trained at a full-service law firm in the South West before starting at Goughs in the Family department. I specialise in Armed Forces pensions on divorce, advising clients on the best way to protect their pension. I understand the effect that life in military has when facing a relationship break down or other related family law problems.

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