Understanding the Division of Military Pensions in Michigan Divorce
In the state of Michigan, as with many states, the dissolution of a marriage brings about legal considerations for the division of marital property. Military pensions are considered a unique form of retirement asset and are subject to specific rules when it comes to division during a divorce proceeding. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (USFSPA) provides a federal framework for addressing military retirement pay in divorce, but states have the flexibility to determine the exact method of division.
Michigan courts generally treat military pensions as marital property to the extent that they were earned during the marriage. This means that any portion of a military pension accrued before or after the marriage is considered separate property and not subject to division. However, the portion earned while married is divisible between spouses.
To illustrate, if a service member served for 20 years, and 10 of those years overlapped with their marriage, only half of the pension is subject to division. The Michigan Court of Appeals case of Byington v. Byington serves as an example where the court affirmed this principle, ensuring that only the marital portion of a military pension was divided.
The actual division does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split. Michigan follows an 'equitable distribution' model which aims to divide marital property fairly, but not always equally. Factors such as the length of the marriage, contributions to the marital estate, and each spouse's financial circumstances post-divorce can influence the final division.
The method used for dividing military pensions often involves a Domestic Relations Order (DRO), which is similar to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) used for civilian retirement plans. A DRO will specify how much of the pension the non-military spouse will receive upon retirement.
It's crucial for both parties to understand that certain conditions must be met for direct payment from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). For example, under what's known as the "10/10 rule," direct payment from DFAS to a former spouse requires at least 10 years of marriage overlapping with 10 years of military service.
In summary, while Michigan adheres to federal guidelines set forth by USFSPA, it also applies its state laws concerning equitable distribution. This ensures that military pensions are divided in a manner that considers both federal mandates and the unique circumstances surrounding each divorce case.