Divorce is complicated, but military couples realize how difficult it can be in a whole different way. Anything regarding the military is complex, and not everyone understands the nitty gritty. Unfortunately, sometimes this is the case with divorce attorneys.
They take on a military divorce case thinking it will be like any other marriage dissolution and forget details that are crucial for an ex-spouse's life after divorce. These mistakes can have large consequences for military divorcees and may be considered legal malpractice.
Common mistakes with pensions and benefits
One way these lawyers fail to properly represent their clients is forgetting to distribute the military pension the right way. In Florida, all vested and non-vested pensions or retirement benefits are marital property and must be considered in equitable distribution.
Attorneys may also distribute these pensions with an unqualified order. Drafting an unqualified order or using vague language leaves a window for parties to litigate the meaning of the agreement after the Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) rejects the order.
A lawyer may also fail to understand the time limitations on military pensions. These payments are terminated upon the death of the retired service member, and upon the dissolution of the marriage a former spouse is no longer covered. Without a deemed election letter specifying survivor benefits should be paid to an ex-spouse, those payments are lost.
Divorce attorneys can often mishandle benefit distribution in military divorces where the military service lasted at least 20 years. A former spouse in this case would be entitled to Tricare and military medical treatment, which is free coverage that can save an ex-spouse a substantial amount of money in the future.