Most military service members, officers and other military personnel understand that the process of going through a divorce in the military can be extremely complicated. Matters of jurisdiction, deployment, custody and other complex issues make the military divorce process much more difficult than most civilian divorces.
The complication of military divorce actually lasts much longer than just the divorce process itself. Depending on the case, there is potential for issues to last for many years after the divorce is finalized.
The Supreme Court to Hear a Military Pension Dispute Case
In a recent report from military.com, the Supreme Court will be considering a military divorce case “that could change the amount disabled military retirees must pay a former spouse after a divorce.”
The Details of the Case
The case involves an original order for an Arizona Air Force couple’s divorce. The article gives great detail into the case. In summary:
- Initial divorce: In the initial divorce, which took place in 1991, the court determined that the husband’s military pension was community property under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) and awarded the wife half of the husband’s monthly award.
- Disability award: Then, in 2005, the ex-husband received a 20-percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
- Offsetting the pension payments: Per federal law intended to minimize double-dipping, the husband had to offset either his disability award or the monthly pension payments. The husband chose to let his pension payment be reduced by $250 per month, resulting in the ex-wife receiving $125 less every month.
- Family court claim: The ex-wife took the case to family court to regain the extra $125. She won the case, as the court rules for the ex-husband resume payments in full.
- Appeal: The ex-husband claims the family court ruling violates USFSPA law that prohibits ex-spouses from collecting on military disability payments.
So the question before the Supreme Court is whether the USFSPA law preempts the state court ruling to make the ex-husband cover the reduction of his monthly pension payments.
What This Question Means
This is an important question for the highest court in the land to answer. As a question of law that has come to different results in different states, a definitive answer from the Supreme Court would make this question a matter of settled law, which will simplify this one issue for divorcing military couples going forward.
The Importance of Long-Term Legal Representation
It is also important to note the timing of this story. The original divorce was in 1991, followed by the ex-wife’s family court claim in 2005. Now the Supreme Court is going to rule on this matter at some point in 2017. That’s more than 10 years from the original dispute over the pension payments, and more than 25 years after the initial divorce.
If you are entering into a military divorce, it is important to work with an attorney who you can trust to handle your case for as long as the issues remain. Working with a lawyer who can handle all the ongoing appeals and disputes that can arise even years after your initial divorce is the best way to protect your interests going forward.