Divorce And A Military Reserve Pension

A reader writes:

My husband was commissioned after ROTC in August 1966, placed on an educational deferment, and did not start active duty until February 1968. How many retirement points did he earn over that period and where is a regulation that addresses this?

After some more questions, I learned:

The time from commission to active duty had no drills or other kinds of services. He was in the Air Force and commissioned after summer training following ROTC.

I have no access to any of his papers. I know that in Sept 1973 he resigned a regular commission and was on Reserve duty until I believe 1995. I know that not all of his years were good years and the reason for his retirement from Reserve duty is that he was a lieutenant colonel and did not receive promotion within a given time frame. I think that he may have retired with 20 years of service.

What I am most concerned about is if any points for retirement were accrued during those 18 months of his educational deferment. It has to do with pension for me as an ex-spouse.

Before I discuss the answers, let me confess that I’m not an expert on all military programs & benefits. I learned a lot during 20 years of active duty, but I’ve mostly figured out where to find the references. Admittedly it’s a huge advantage to be married to a military spouse who has another quarter-century of experience from her own active-duty and Reserve units. I’m also getting pretty persistent skilled at picking the right keywords to enter into Google. I tried all of that for this reader’s question, of course, and came up empty.

My biggest resource (by far!) has been the contact network that I’ve developed over the last decade. It launched when over 50 servicemembers & veterans volunteered to help write “The Military Guide“. It accelerated when USAA invited a bunch of bloggers to their headquarters. These days it gains even more altitude through other blogs, FinCons, paperbacks & eBooks, blogger Facebook groups, Linkedin veteran’s groups, e-mails, and other networking.

At first this reader’s question stopped me in my tracks. I won’t tell annoy you with what I was doing in 1966, but let’s just say that the military was the furthest thing from my mind. I’m familiar with programs from the 1980s and 1990s, but even Google splutters out on military references before then.

I started looking through my network, and I eventually remembered that we servicemembers & veterans have a secret archive: veteran’s organizations. Whether they’re online or at a chapter in your neighborhood, you can probably find someone who knows someone who remembers how it used to be… and (this is the important part) where to find the reference.

For example, my father’s DD-214 shows that he did his compulsory service in the 1950s Army with recruit training followed by three months in armor school. (I remember him telling me that the highlight of his service was staying up one night to guard a tank.) However, this young private had also finished an electrical engineering degree and was hired by Westinghouse to help build electric plants & grids. After he completed his armor school he was granted a deferment, transferred to an Army Reserve unit, and immediately went into the Individual Ready Reserve. I don’t think he ever wore his uniform again, and he completed his obligation in the mid-1960s.

Another local friend completed his college degree through ROTC and served in the Army during the same years as our reader’s spouse. He confirmed for me that her spouse would have completed ROTC and been commissioned as a 2LT. His educational deferment meant that he would have spent the entire time in the IRR completing his degree. He was an officer without any Air Force specialty training schools so he would not have even had to muster for drill weekends, let alone any active-duty orders or correspondence courses. He would have earned zero points during these 18 months before starting his active duty obligation.

Unfortunately, it’s a completely different challenge to find the references for these programs and to verify an ex-spouse’s service record. However, it might not be worth the time or money, so let me describe a few ways to do her own research before deciding whether to seek professional help.

First, an ex-spouse could hire a lawyer with experience in military divorce: someone who knows military benefits and the acronyms & jargon and how to read old service records. The lawyer could subpoena the ex-spouse’s service records to verify their point count. Another option would be for the lawyer to subpoena the ex-spouse’s pay & point-count records with the Air Force (or now with the Defense Finance & Accounting Service, or the record archives in St. Louis) to verify his pension calculation. I doubt that the verification would be worth the thousands of dollars of legal fees.

Second, she could talk to a local chapter of a veteran’s organization. Someone in their membership would have been in the service during the same time (like my friend), perhaps even under the same ROTC educational deferment. They’d know whether an ex-spouse would have earned any points.

Other research options include national groups like the Military Officers Association of America, the “divorce” category of the Military Money section on Military.com, the Disabled American Veterans, or TogetherWeServed.com. Service groups like the Association of the U.S. Navy could also help with specific programs. I’m not aware of any public websites that archive old military regulations or instructions (please contact me if you know of one!) but one of those organizations may have their own databases. The sidebar of this blog has more links to consider, and I’ve included more resources at the end of this post.

Here’s the practical reason that our reader might not care to invest any further effort in the research. Her ex-spouse served roughly five years and seven months on active duty, and that counts as roughly 2035 points. Then he spent the next 20+ years earning 15 more good years. Unless he spent a lot of time on Reserve mobilization or other active-duty orders during that 20 years, he probably earned about 50-75 points during each of his 15 good years. Let’s call that an average of 60 points per year (which is pretty generous, even by today’s standards) or another 900 points. That means when he retired as an O-5 he had roughly 2935 points. (Most Reserve officers retire with between 2500-4000 points.) Under the rules in effect in 1995, his service multiplier is roughly:

2935 / 360 * 2.5% = 20.38%.

In other words, he’s entitled to about 20% of his pay scale.

From his college graduation date, I’d speculate that he was born around 1945, which means that he’d start collecting his pension at age 60 in 2005. When he retired in 1995, the rules in effect back then said that he’d retire at the “Final Pay” system. His pension would be a percentage of the highest pay scale in his retirement rank from the pay tables in effect for the year he turns age 60:

O-5 pay topped out at $6,997.50 in 2005, so his monthly pension would be:

$6,997.50 * 20.38% = $1426/month.

If she split that with him then her share would be $713/month.

Now let’s go back to those 18 months in 1966-68. If he was in the IRR during that time, he’d have to get a certain number of points to earn a “good year”. (However, he was on an educational deferment, so he didn’t have to earn any points at all and would have been just carried on the books until he was mobilized in August 1968.) Let’s say that the worst case was zero points, and the best case was 75 points.

If he earned 75 points during those 18 months (and from what we’ve learned so far, I highly doubt he did) then his point count would go from 2935 points to 3010 points His pension would be

$6997.50 * [(3010 / 360) * 2.5%] = $1462.

Her share would be $731/month. It rises by $18/month or $216/year.

And again, the educational deferment meant that he almost certainly earned zero points during that time. The actual pension amount is probably closer to $1426/month. Even if her ex-spouse earned some points during 1966-68 it might not be worth the time, hassle, and legal expenses to track down.

Related articles:
Military retirement and divorce
Military insurance: SGLI, VGLI, SBP, and other benefits
Veterans Benefits Network
Court citations from Disabled American Veterans archives
(That link opens a Word document of legal citations for veteran’s benefits.)
The “divorce” topic category at Military.com’s Money section
(Military retired pay policy & procedures dating back to the 1930s)

About Doug Nordman

Author of "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" and co-author of "Raising Your Money-Savvy Family For Next Generation Financial Independence."
This entry was posted in Military Life & Family, Military Retirement. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Divorce And A Military Reserve Pension

  1. Doug Nordman says:

    Thanks to a reader for his feedback:
    “Toward the end of your recent post, you have this line:
    ‘Let’s say that the worst case was zero points, and the best case was 75 points.’
    Actually, in those days, I believe it would have been a max of 60 points.”

  2. Deserat says:

    I’m confused because she doesn’t tell you if she was married to him the whole 20 years….her amount of the pension would usually be further reduced from 50% based on the years of marriage. Lastly, if you are deferred, you are usually not earning any points – not even the 15 ‘you are alive and participating points.’ You are in a bucket to be called in case of all out war….as you show, the change in the amount of pension that would go to here may not be worth the effort on her part to verify this. The fact that she’s asking about these ‘deferred years’ leads me to believe she isn’t eligible for the 50%…but then, I’ll say again, I’m confused. I’m sure there’s more to this story than the information you’ve included on this blog. The fact that he some ‘bad years’ is an important one – it does suggest a minimal participation to just the required (50 points) and I know from personal experience that during some of those years, getting more than 50 points was nigh on impossible as a younger officer. That’s one way to minimize the future obligations of the federal government with regard to a pension.

    Your point of going to veteran’s organizations is a very good one. However, your recommendation that it may not be worth the effort is valid, as well. She may end up paying a lawyer or someone else a lot of money for a very little payback. It’s awfully nice that you went to so much trouble in your blog post to research all that you did.

    • Doug Nordman says:

      Thanks, Deserat, you’re right– the marriage was after the education deferment ended.

      I’m getting those details sorted out now (by e-mail) and I’ll update the post. I also wanted to get the basic post up now, so that the rest of the readers can chime in on “the way it used to be”.

      My understanding (minimal as that may be) of the federal USFSPA is that it only provides a framework for the state’s divorce agreement. While 50% and pro-rated reductions may be the default for a marriage during a military career, I think the most important aspect is to get the numbers explicitly stated in the divorce decree.

  3. Elizabeth Danna says:

    Help…….I got divorced. I’ll get 1051 points that is 50% of my ex husbands pension. What will I get monthy as an ex wife of Chief Petty Officer Reservist (enlisted) (his 20 yrs are 2016) We were married for 12 yrs.

    • Doug Nordman says:


      I can’t predict your share of your ex-spouse’s pension, and I’m not sure that anyone can give you a precise number. However I can suggest some issues for you to discuss with your lawyer.

      The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act only says that military pensions and benefits can be divided as part of a divorce. The federal law doesn’t specify how to divide the asset, only that it can be divided. The state’s divorce laws and your divorce decree will lay out the details.

      If your share is 1051 points, then that’s 1051 / 360 * 2.5% = 7.3% of the High-Three base pay of an E-7. If that pension started tomorrow, then it would be the average of the three highest years of the E-7 pay table, which (in today’s dollars) is about 97% of $4946.70/month. Your share would be 7.3% x 97% x $4946.70 = $350/month in today’s dollars. But you won’t see that amount until your ex-spouse turns age 60, and it might be quite a bit less.

      One issue is that the Reserve pension starts at age 60, and it’s based on the pay tables in effect for the three years before your ex-spouse turns age 60. It’s also at the longevity he would gain in the E-7 pay tables as if he’d been on active duty up until age 60, which is usually the maximum pay column at the E-7 rank. Nobody knows what the pay tables will be until your ex-spouse is nearly 60 years old, but 97% of $4946.70/month (today’s dollars) is the best estimate you’ll get.

      However that pension amount is reduced by another factor: veteran’s disability. That’s discussed in detail in this post: https://the-military-guide.com/military-retirement-and-divorce/ If he’s rated at less than 50% disabled then his VA disability compensation will reduce the amount of his pension, which will reduce the “disposable retired pay” that’s split by your divorce decree. Some divorce decrees (the ones drawn up by smart divorce lawyers with military experience) include a provision that the ex-spouse has to make up the difference, but some decrees do not.

      $350/month (in today’s dollars) is about the maximum you could expect, and you’d start to receive it when your ex-spouse turned age 60. However the amount could be considerably less than that. I recommend that you have a divorce lawyer (one who understands military divorce and pensions) review your divorce decree. You could refer to the links in these two posts to consult the pension calculation methods and the pay tables to develop an estimate.

  4. Elizabeth Danna says:

    Elizabeth here Thank you for all the info. We were married for 12 yrs. He joined the Navy reserves in 1996 and married in 96′ too. Born in 1959. He is doing the 20yrs will get out in 2016. I need a form. Can you email the automatic direct deposit form. Thank you.

  5. Deborah Novak says:

    Help! I was married to my ex-husband for 22 years. He was active duty for 4 years 1986-1990 and a guardsmen for the remaining years. He recently began drawing his pension. I sent in a copy of my divorce decree along with the proper paperwork. I received a letter stating that they need to know how many pension points he accrued while being in service. I have no contact with my ex husband nor would he willingly give me this information. Who can I contact to get this information.

    • Doug Nordman says:

      I’m sorry to read about this, Deborah.

      If you’re referring to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, DFAS usually obtains that information from the retiree’s military service. I don’t know how to get that information on your own as an ex-spouse.

      If you haven’t already done so, take a look at the FAQs on the DFAS website like this question: “Why would DFAS send a former spouse a rejection letter stating that in order to complete the USFSPA application, the former spouse must obtain a new order clarifying the former spouse’s retired pay as property award?”
      It says “According to the USFSPA, a retired pay as property award must be expressed as a fixed dollar amount or percentage of disposable retired pay.  The implementing regulation also permits the use of an acceptable formula or hypothetical retired pay award if the parties were divorced prior to a member’s becoming eligible to receive retired pay.  However, in any case, the court order must provide enough information to enable DFAS to compute the amount of the award.  Awards such as “50 percent of the military retired pay accrued during the marriage” or “50 percent of the marital portion of military retired pay” do not suffice. For examples of acceptable award language, please see Appendix A of Chapter 29 of the DoD Financial Management Regulation, Volume 7B.  If the retired pay award language is not acceptable, the former spouse must have the court clarify the amount of the retired pay award by expressing it in an acceptable manner.”
      That FMR reference is found in Volume 7B Chapter 29 on page 29-34 of this link:

      Click to access 07b_29.pdf

      under the title of “Reserve Awards.”

      You could try contacting your ex-spouse’s military personnel branch headquarters, but obtaining the point count might require a lawyer letter or even a court order citing the DFAS website and the FMR.

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