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Supreme Court to consider military divorce and disability pay

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Texas couples in the military are no strangers to marital trouble. Like any civilian divorce, a military divorce often centers around the division of assets. Something that is not up for dispute, however, is the pension a servicemember receives at retirement. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (USFSPA) requires that the pension be divided equally with a civilian spouse after they divorce.

One military asset that is protected from a former spouse is the retiring servicemember's disability pay from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In order to receive the full amount of disability from the VA, a retiree must waive part of the monthly pension payment he or she receives. This is what one man elected to do upon retirement because the pension is taxed by the federal government, but the VA disability payments are not.

However, in taking a cut in his pension, the servicemember also subjected his former spouse to a cut in her 50 percent share. She sued in family court, and the court maintained that her former husband was in violation of the divorce decree by electing to reduce his retirement at his ex-wife's expense. Now the case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court to determine if the USFSPA law preventing ex-spouses from claiming disability pay supersedes the lower court's order to make up for the loss of pay to the ex-spouse.

This case may affect military divorce issues in Texas and across the country. The Supreme Court may determine that the retiring serviceman, if he chooses to accept disability pay, must make up for his ex-wife's pension cut from his own resources. Such a ruling may set a precedent for future disputes over pensions when disability payments are involved.

Source: military.com, "Supreme Court May Change Divorce Pension Payments", Amy Bushatz, Dec. 8, 2016

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