In most cases divorce is a difficult process. There are usually multiple matters that need to be addressed. The division of property can be complicated, particularly in the case of military divorce where military retirement pay is concerned. The laws regarding matters such as these are not set in stone and can change. The U.S. Supreme Court recent heard a case on military pay and will rule on it later this year.
The case involves a couple who ended their marriage in 1991. At the time of the divorce they agreed that the wife was entitled to half of her ex's military pay. This arrangement apparently continued until 2005 when the former husband decided to take disability benefits-which are not taxable-in exchange for waiving a portion of his retirement pay. This change altered the amount of benefit each individual received, lowering the ex-wife's and raising the ex-husband's. Unsurprisingly, the ex-wife took legal action to try to get the amount she previously received as well as the money that she missed.
The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act
The relevant law in this case is the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. The federal law allows state courts to determine whether the "disposable retired pay" is property of the service member and his or her spouse or just the service member. The state court that ruled on the woman's case found that she should be reimbursed for the lower payments received in the past and going forward was entitled to the amount she had previously received each month. The ex-husband appealed.
At issue is the intent behind the USFSPA and how states should apply it and the definition of "disposable retired pay" is an important element of this case. The ex-husband alleges that because it is defined as what is left of his retired pay after his disability benefits are subtracted, she is not entitled to the money she seeks. Among other things, his ex-wife claims that at the point of the divorce settlement, she agreed to short-term alimony in anticipation of the receipt of half of her ex's retirement pay and would not have done so if she'd known the retirement pay would later decrease.
How this case will be decided remains to be seen. Its outcome is important because it could impact many divorces that involve current of former members of the military. Regardless of the outcome of this case, military divorces can be complex. Because getting a fair settlement in situations such as these is so important it is generally advisable to work with a knowledgeable lawyer.