When one or both parents are active-duty servicemembers in the U.S. military, it can raise some difficult questions during a custody or divorce case. One of those questions is whether military pay can be considered to calculate child support.
This blog post will discuss how active-duty and retired military servicemembers can pay child support through their military pay or veterans benefits. It will discuss whether veterans’ disability benefits count as income for child support purposes, and whether you can have your military pay cover child support payments automatically. One quick warning, this stuff is complex, and the law changes frequently. We’ve tried to lay out the basics in a easy-to-understand manner. Hopefully we’ve accomplished this goal. So with that said…. Let’s dig in.
Military Regulations Require Parents to Support Children While They Are Married
The nature of active duty military service means that sometimes even happily married couples have to live apart and share in the cost of providing child care. Colorado law generally requires a child’s parents to legally separate or divorce before child support will be ordered. But the military generally considers it part of a servicemember’s duties to financially support his or her dependents, regardless of a couple’s marital status. If a parent fails to live up to that expectation, his or her commanding officer has the authority to punish the servicemember through non-judicial punishments if certain conditions are met.
Collecting Colorado Child Support Payments from Active-Duty Servicemembers
Once military families do legally separate or divorce, however, child support becomes a matter of state law. In Colorado, each legal parent is required to contribute to a child’s financial needs. Once the parents separate, the civilian or military spouse can request child support as part of a custody or divorce action in state courts. The appropriate amount of child support is then calculated according to a formula and divided between the parents based on their respective income and other factors.
Making sure you pay or receive the right amount of child support can be difficult for military servicemembers. That is because typical military pay can include earnings and leave pay as well as the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and Basic Allowance for Subsistence or Separate Rations (BAS). If your Colorado divorce attorney is not experienced in handling military cases, he or she could miss some part of that income, resulting in an incorrect child support calculation.
Once a child support order is entered, there is an obligation to pay the child support just like in any normal civilian case. Military members can ask the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to set up automatic withdrawals for the child support and any unpaid arrearage. This is known as a voluntary allotment, and is typically done through an Income Withholding Order.
Collecting Colorado Child Support Payments from Military Pensions or Veterans Disability
When a military servicemember retires or is discharged from service, they will no longer receive the same military pay. That said, most retiring servicemembers are entitled to some combination of military pension and other retirement benefits such as VA disability. Military retirement can be used to make child support payments. The difference in pay might be grounds to have court re-evaluate child support obligations, but the bottom line is that military retired pay can be considered to calculate child support.
When a servicemember is disabled due to a service-related injury, he or she may also be entitled to full or partial veterans disability benefits. The interaction between retirement pay and disability pay is beyond the scope of this post. However, you should know that these payments could be considered by a judge to determine child support obligations as well.
The bottom line is that this is complex stuff, so be sure to get the help of a Colorado family law attorney with experience in military matters to help you figure out how whether VA benefits can be used to cover child support payments.
Modifying Child Support After Military Retirement
When an active-duty military servicemember retires or is discharged, the return to civilian life will often come with a significant change in pay. He or she may find a new job in addition to receiving military retirement pay, or may lose income because a disability prevents him or her from working. As long as the veteran’s new pay would change the child support calculation by at least 10%, it may be appropriate to modify the existing child support order to better reflect the income of the parents.
If you or your former partner are a veteran or active-duty military servicemember, you need to know your military pay can be used to cover child support costs. A family law attorney with military experience can help you make sure any child support order is fair, and is automatically paid through the appropriate military and veterans office. At Aviso Law, LLC, our child support lawyers are veterans themselves. We know the issues facing active-duty military parents and their spouses, and make it a point to help you understand how your service will affect child support matter. We are here to serve you and your family during your service and your retirement. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.