THE "THROWAWAY Military Wives," whose stories were told in this paper on Monday, have begun to organize and to strike back. We are talking about women who were married to servicemen for 10 years or more -- many for much longer -- and are now divorced. Often they have had little or no work experience because they moved frequently when their husbands were transferred. In many cases, the couple does not own a home or have a store of valuable assets to divide, and few courts today will order long-term alimony to be paid out of a husband's future earnings. Until recently, a divorced military spouse lost an array of fringe benefits -- health care and commissary privileges, for example -- that had been part of her life for years. Most important, military pensions were not considered property for the purpose of equitable division by courts. Wives who had been married for decades had no hope of receiving a share of this valuable asset.
In the last three years all that has begun to change. Even if they were divorced before the passage of corrective legislation, many former military wives are now eligible for medical care and commissary privileges (we think, by the way, that the commissary privilege is a questionable expenditure of public funds in the first place, but that is another matter). And courts may consider military pensions when ordering a division of assets. Former spouses of the Foreign Service and CIA employees get a better break: courts assume pensions are to be divided in these cases and will pro-rate as much as 50 percent of the benefit in the absence of an affirmative decision to do otherwise. Military wives want and deserve the same treatment. It's true that in some cases this may not be just, which is why the rule is not ironclad, allowing judges to make other arrangements. But in the large majority of cases, wives who have been married for years, who have raised children and forgone careers in the interest of their husbands' careers are entitled, in their retirement years, to share the benefits earned during the marriage.