A few months ago we posted a blog entry about a letter [PDF] we wrote opposing a bill in the Oklahoma state legislature that would limit the ability of former spouses to receive an award of military retirement pay in a divorce settlement. The blog entry received a number of comments – several disagreeing with our position.
In the blog entry, we noted that assets, including retirement benefits, earned during a marriage are marital property that are subject to division at divorce. Some of the comments complained about the fact that a former spouse, married to a service member for, say, 10 years, could receive a share of the military pension, even though the member must serve for at least 20 years in order to earn that pension. (Of course, if the member didn’t serve for the full 20 years, neither the member nor the former spouse would be entitled to anything.)
Other commenters complained about the fact that, if a military service member forfeits his or her pension under a so-called “bad boy” clause (in which certain bad behaviors – such as being convicted of a crime, refusing a recall to active duty, or becoming a citizen of another country – causes the service member to lose the right to a military pension), the ex-spouse still gets a share of the pension.
These comments raise two important questions: First, is requiring 20 years of service in order to earn a pension reasonable? Years ago the laws were changed for the private retirement system and other federally regulated retirement systems (civil service, railroad retirement, foreign service). In general, an employee in the private sector earns a nonforfeitable right to a pension benefit after a maximum of seven years of service and as little as three years. Isn’t it time for the laws for military personnel to be changed as well?
Second, isn’t it also time to re-examine the bad boy clause as applied in the military retirement system? In the private pension system, bad boy clauses are allowed only under very narrow circumstances and rarely result in the full forfeiture of a benefit. In the military, the bad boy clause is much more broadly defined, and the service member almost always loses the entire benefit.
We think a 21st Century military deserves a 21st Century retirement system. What do you think?