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Supreme Court hears arguments in case about military divorce

Going through a divorce presents emotional, legal and financial difficulties. Division of property, spousal support and child custody are just a few of the legal issues facing most divorcing couples. Those going through a military divorce face some added challenges. With the need for application of perhaps unclear federal laws pertaining to service members or retired military personnel, the legal landscape of a military divorce can be complicated.

One Supreme Court case will hopefully assist in clearing up an important issue regarding the interpretation of the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. This federal law authorizes state courts to divide up military retirement pay, minus any portion that was waived in favor of disability benefits.

In a recent Supreme Court case, a retired service member had previously agreed that his ex-wife would receive half of his military retirement pay when it began the year following their divorce. Later, though, he opted to waive part of his retirement pay in favor of untaxed disability benefits. The Arizona Supreme Court granted the ex-wife her requests to have the monthly payments restored to the originally agreed upon amount and to be reimbursed for the discrepancy between amounts since the implementation of the disability benefits. The case recently came before the Supreme Court of the United States and oral arguments centered on the proper application of the USFSPA.

The former husband argued that he should not have to pay his ex-spouse half of his retirement pay that he now receives as disability pay because it comports with the text of the USFSPA and because Congress intended for the disabled veteran spouse to keep all disability pay. He stated that whether the veteran becomes entitled to disability pay before or after the divorce is not relevant to the goal of protecting a veteran's disability benefits.

The former spouse argued that the timing of the disability benefits is, in fact, relevant to the case because it would go against the purpose of the USFSPA and the intention of Congress to allow her ex-husband's change of plans, after coming to an agreement, to leave his former spouse "in the cold".

With relatively little questioning or input from the Justices, it remains to be seen which way this case will go. SCOTUS will deliberate and release its final ruling at a later date. Counsel who closely follows updates in the law such as this case will be an invaluable asset to those going through military divorce.

Source: SCOTUSblog.com, "Argument analysis: Quiet bench means few signals on military divorce case," Amy Howe, March 20, 2017

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