Originally Posted by ER_Hopeful
someone very dear to me is about to get a divorce. She's been married to a do-nothing lazy bum for about 3 1/2 years now. She was married in CA and they're living in CA.
He hasn't worked much since getting married, so she's been the only one bringing the income. She has a couple of ROTH IRA's and a military retirement acct (TSP) that she started before the marriage (total value = around $40k). She's in the Army reserve but is on active duty currently.
some questions, hopefully someone could answer.
1. does she have to split the IRA and TSP with her husband even though they were started before the marriage.
2. she also has a military pension, does she have to split that too?
3. any free or low cost legal web site or resources she can use?
4. I think a paralegal is much cheaper, in what cases she must use a lawyer instead of a paralegal.
5. what if he refuses to sign the paper, what are her remedies.
6. is it true that after being legally separated for period of time, she'd be considered divorced? At the moment, they're renting her mom's house.
7. what other questions or things she should be asking in a divorce, what are some of the watch-outs or pitfalls?
She needs to talk to a military lawyer ("the JAG") right away. The longer she dithers, the greater the likelihood that her spouse will talk to the JAG first. That will mean she'll have to find another JAG.
#1, #2: Not according to the federal law, the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act. However that law only says that military entitlements and benefits (pension, healthcare, base access) can be divided as property by a state's divorce agreement. The only document that really counts is the state divorce agreement.
For example, the state could decree that since the USFSPA allows division of a pension then she has to pay him x% of the projected amount of her pension for y% months. Or because he had a reasonable expectation of healthcare for the rest of her service obligation, she has to buy him a policy off the ACA exchange for z months. I've heard (but not confirmed) that CA is one of the nation's most notorious states for creative interpretations of the USFSPA.
#3. I'm sure there are lots of them, and they're worth exactly what she pays for their services. This is not a time to shop on price. The JAG is free.
#4. The JAG is free, and JAGs have their own paralegals (military enlisted assistants). She needs to go see a JAG now.
#5. That's up to the state. The usual solution is some form of negotiations, perhaps mediation or even arbitration. Eventually a court order can be issued with or without his agreement.
#6. Again, that would depend on state law.
#7. She should be asking the JAG what she's legally obligated to pay to her spouse now. For example, she might be required to give him a certain amount of her pay and allowances (as a deposit to his checking account) for his support until the divorce is final. If they're separated, then she should make sure that her chain of command is aware of that. She needs to ensure that nobody thinks she's fraudulently drawing a housing allowance.
If she has not already done so, she should separate their finances now-- separate checking accounts, separate credit cards, separate investment accounts. She's not obligated to divide any assets, but if his name is on an account (joint or survivor) then it's probably a bad idea to appropriate it. She should also check her credit reports and consider freezing them-- in case he's holding (or applying for) other credit cards or loans in her name.
A lawyer will guide her through all that in a checklist. Did I mention that she should talk to a JAG?
Here are links to military-specific posts for issues like her Survivor Benefits Plan and any potential disability rating:
Military retirement and divorce - Military Guide
Protecting Your Military Benefits In A Divorce - Military Guide
But before she reads those posts, she should go talk to... a JAG.
I know this snarky harping on seeing a JAG may seem inappropriate at such a stressful time, but I get this question a lot. In every instance of this situation, I suggest that the reader consult the JAG. In just about every damn instance that I make the suggestion, the reader delays and hesitates and otherwise finds
reasons to not see a JAG. It appears to be behavioral human nature.
She doesn't need to have all the answers, and she doesn't need to think through the details. She doesn't need to "talk it out" or "get her finances in order". She needs to grab hold of someone who can help her get started on the process, and that someone is the JAG.