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For Texas veterans, marriage can cost them benefits at divorce

The U.S. military tries its best to take care of its former servicemembers once they leave the service, especially career soldiers or Marines. Military and disability benefits help veterans as they come home from war with injuries, or as they age.

Some servicemembers may not realize that federal law makes sure their longtime spouses are taken care of too, even if they ever divorce. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act says that if a person was married to a servicemember for at least 20 years, and if the servicemember was in the military for at least 20 years during the marriage, the non-serving spouse is entitled to a portion of the veteran's benefits for the rest of his or her life.

The statute does not specify how to split up the veteran's benefits. Most states, including Texas, use the equitable distribution model, which means that assets like veterans' benefits must be split fairly.

This law is meant in part to recognize that military spouses make sacrifices too. Though they are not risking their lives in a war zone, they must move frequently, and care for the children alone.

However, these benefits are not transferrable once the ex-husband or wife receives them. If the veteran remarries, his or her new spouse cannot receive them.

While this law only applies to marriages of at least 20 years, that does not mean it never comes into effect. Military veterans and their spouses who are considering divorce may wish to discuss the USFSPA with their attorney, if their marriage was a long one.

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