As with a civilian divorce, there are the customary factors that will come to the forefront in a military divorce such as support for children and providing benefits to the non-military spouse. However, since military benefits are integral to the life of a former service member and the spouse, how these are allocated after military retirement is vital to a case. Changes to how the law views these benefits must be watched closely.
A case in which a veteran had his disability payments viewed as part of the marriage assets to be divided in the divorce and tried to stop it received a favorable ruling from the United States Supreme Court. The man and his ex-wife divorced in 1991. As part of the settlement, the Arizona Supreme Court decided that his wife should receive half his pay. He retired from the military the next year and the money was divided in half until 2005. This was based on the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA). The man was then diagnosed as having a shoulder issue that he incurred during his service and was found 20 percent disabled, making him eligible to receive disability payments. This is not taxable, but the retirement pay must be reduced accordingly to account for it.
Out of his monthly $1,500 retirement payments, he surrendered $250 so he could get disability. Because of that, his wife had a reduction of $125 in what she received from him per month. She filed a lawsuit in 2013. The state court agreed that she was entitled to half of what the retirement pay would have been independent of his disability. He appealed to the Supreme Court and it agreed with him that the disability payments could not be calculated in the payments to his former wife. It is exempt and he will no longer have to surrender half of it to his ex-wife.
This case will be important to other cases in which there are disability payments to a veteran. Given the number of military members and former members who are returning home from deployment with disabling injuries, this ruling is something that must be considered when a military divorce is underway. Since the ruling was just made, it is essential to have assistance and advice from an attorney who is experienced in military divorce and its rules to sift through it and learn how each side should handle this type of circumstance.