After spending decades in the U.S. Armed Forces, veterans receive retirement benefits that help them enjoy their golden years with their families. That is, unless they get divorced. Prior to 1982, a significant amount of confusion existed regarding whether a non-military spouse could receive a portion of the service member’s retirement.
In that year, Congress passed the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act, which gave states the right to include military pensions as part of the marital estate within certain guidelines. Even with certain instructions from the act, states were not consistent regarding what to do if a veteran took disability payments in lieu of a corresponding portion of his or her retirement. This often meant a reduction in any amount awarded to the non-veteran spouse.
How the court handles such reductions here in Arizona
Here in Arizona, some courts have required veterans to make up the difference in what their former spouses were receiving prior to taking disability. In one particular case, a former non-military spouse petitioned the Arizona Supreme Court, asking the court to enter an order that her former husband, who was the service member, should make up that difference — and the court agreed.
The veteran went to the U.S. Supreme Court
Instead of accepting the ruling of the state’s highest court, the veteran went to the country’s highest court. The U.S. Supreme Court heard his petition, along with briefs from other organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. Recently, the court ruled that veterans who decide to take disability in lieu of a portion of their retirement do not have to make up the difference to a former spouse.
The VFW believes that this ruling will help provide more consistency throughout the country regarding this issue.
What does this mean for non-military spouses in a divorce?
The full extent of this ruling remains unknown, since a reduction in awards of military pensions will more than likely continue. Now, however, such reductions may require consideration during divorce proceedings, if possible. Family law attorneys who handle military divorces may need to rethink their strategies when it comes to requesting a portion of a service member’s military retirement. This will add yet another dimension to those who seek benefits under the USFSPA.
The USFSPA already makes military divorce cases complex. In order to properly deal with the issue of military retirement, it might be beneficial to involve an attorney who understands the unique issues facing military members and their spouses.