Divorce in the forces

October 26th, 2021

Sadly, many marriages and civil partnerships these days still end in divorce, and for those serving in the armed forces, the pressures of one or even both partners being deployed for long periods can put even greater strain on the relationship.

Contrary to popular belief, there are no differences between a military couple getting divorced and a civilian couple parting ways. The legal process is the same and as long as the couple are living in the UK then the proceedings can take place in a UK court.

Where things do differ, however, is when it comes to pensions. Since the early part of this century, civilian divorce settlements have often taken into account the division of pensions as part of the couple’s assets. This is particularly important if one partner depends financially on the other, and can be very complex requiring a family law expert to pick through and ensure that everyone gets a fair share. However, military pensions are a little different, and not all elements of a military pension can be shared out in a divorce settlement. There are certain criteria that determine whether or not all of the assets of a military pension can be shared between the couple.

There is also the question of child maintenance payments to consider, as well as other financial constraints such as school fees for children who go to boarding school while one or both of their parents are deployed.

What’s the divorce process for military couples?
It is exactly the same as for civilian couples. Currently, the marriage has to have permanently broken down, based on one of the five reasons known as the facts for divorce. ‘No fault’ divorce is due to come into effect in England and Wales in April 2022. This means that couples will be able to get divorced without one person needing to lay blame on the other. This change will also apply to civil partnership dissolution.

Military couples can either do a DIY divorce if there are minimal assets and no children or seek the assistance of a family law expert. Our advice, due to the complexity of military pensions in particular, its that it is important to seek professional advice from the outset to ensure that the process is as smooth and as hassle-free as possible.

Military pensions
Most military pensions are made up of four different elements. Some are shareable in the event of a divorce, while some are not and are awarded solely to the pension holder. The different sections of a military pension include:

Armed Forces Pension Scheme (AFPS) – this part can be shared between the pension holder and their spouse, and can be included as part of a pension sharing order.

Service Invaliding Pension (SIP) – If a serving member of the armed forces has to retire due to ill health, the SIP part of a pension is awarded. It can be included in a divorce settlement and can be shared between the pension holder and their spouse.

Service Attributable Pension (SAP) – If a veteran is injured, becomes ill during their service, or is killed in action, then the SAP element of a pension is awarded. It’s based on two key elements – the rank of the person and the extent of their injuries or disability. It is not shareable and cannot be included in a divorce settlement.

War Disablement Pension (WDP) – If a veteran is disabled as a result of their service (for example, if they’re injured by an IED while on active duty) then the WDP pension is awarded. Again, this is issued solely to the serving member of the military and cannot be included in any divorce settlement.

Periodical Payments
British armed forces families are often entitled to reductions in school fees if their children attend a boarding school, but even with these reductions the fees can still be considerable. If a military family cannot agree on who is responsible for paying school fees (or how much each partner is subject to), then they can ask the court to make an order that includes Periodical Payments, which mean that the person with the greater income makes a contribution to the school fees so that the child or children can remain at their school. This is in addition to general child maintenance payments.

This is a complex and often highly emotive issue, so it’s best to talk to a family law expert who specialises in military divorces to ensure everyone is treated fairly.

Contact us for help
Divorce can be hugely stressful. For military families, the pressures can be even greater, especially if a family is relying on ‘married quarters’ housing or have children at boarding school. Our family law experts are experienced at dealing with military divorce settlements.

Contact us in confidence today for impartial help and advice.