Don’t Use the Term “Military Pension”

Couples know how to get under each other’s skin, and they know just how far to go before it will actually result in significant confrontation. These subtle actions serve to let the other person know, “I’m still irritated with you.”

When couples divorce, this deep understanding of each other doesn’t go away. Judges and lawyers may have raised emotions during litigation, but no one can connect with your partner like you can. You have been behind the closed door. You know what happens there.


One thing that will wind up most service members is calling their retainer pay a military pension. It’s even worse if it’s done by a former spouse. The facial expression changes, the body temperature increases, the pulse rate quickens, and phrases like “so stupid,” “have no idea what you’re talking about,” and possibly some expletive words will be heard. Most likely, any opportunity for discussion has ended.

Let’s keep discussions open by using appropriate terms.

The terms military pension, retired/retirement pay, disposable retired pay, disposable pay, and retainer pay are often used interchangeably. Technically, the terms pension and retired pay are incorrect, as military pay after retirement is a retainer pay, a reduced pay for reduced service. (Service members can be called back to duty.) Nevertheless, regulations occasionally refer to this pay as “retired pay,” and this term is generally used on the Internet and throughout books, such as Military Divorce Tips.

What is the importance behind what military retainer pay is called?

Usually the concerns and emotions surrounding terminology arise when discussing the logic and legality of divorce laws. The term military pension and the history of the USFSPA were commented on by @USFSPA Survivor, and you can frequently find Internet threads discussing the definition of military retirement pay.

If you want to designate military retirement pay as a pension, an asset, support (alimony), income, or some other term, ask yourself why you feel it should be considered “this” or “that”?

Often the real need to call military retirement pay a certain term stems from the idea that if we can call it “this” or call it “that” then we can push forward to change the USFSPA — because if defined in such a manner, the pay could be treated under different rules.

Those who wish to call retainer pay a military pension aim to follow laws already in place for dividing pensions in a divorce. These people generally favor division of pay with the soon-to-be former military spouse. Those who wish to call it income usually believe it is not a marital asset in any way, shape or form, and thus should not be divided.

In reality, military retirement pay is its own entity. It does not fall under the true definition of any one term, but instead has aspects that: act like a pension, act like an asset, act like support, and act like income.

Unless you’re trying to subtly irritate a service member, the best way to keep discussions open is to avoid the term military pension, but regardless of how you describe it, a duck is a duck. In all cases, we are describing the disposable military retainer pay of the service member, which states can designate as sole or marital property in a divorce. Everyone knows what we are talking about: the money received by the service member after retirement. The issue is not what it is “called,” but the underlying thought — whether and how it should be divided.

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