Retirement benefits, disability and military divorces
According to a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on May 15, if a person is receiving part of an ex-spouse’s retirement pay and looses a portion of that benefit because the ex-spouse has opted to receive disability benefits instead, the state cannot reimburse the ex-spouse. The case heard by the court involved a couple who had divorced in 1991. At the time, they agreed that when the man retired from the military, his ex-wife would get half of his retirement pay.
The man retired a year later, but in 2005, the Department of Veterans Affairs approved his claim that he had sustained a degenerative joint disease while in the military. While he qualified for disability benefits, this meant that he had to waive the same amount from his retirement pay. As a result, the retirement benefits to both him and his ex-wife were reduced by $127 per month.
In 2013, she filed a motion to have the pay restored, and a family court ruled that she had a right to the reimbursement. The Arizona Supreme Court agreed. However, the U.S. Supreme Court argued that the retirement pay was not community property and that the state could not increase the amount paid to the woman.
A military divorce may raise a number of issues that do not come up in a civilian divorce. These could range from one person in the divorce being stationed far away to determining benefits based on the longevity of the marriage. If both spouses are in the military, issues around child custody could be more complex as well. A person considering divorce in a marriage in which one or both people is in the military might want to talk to an attorney about these specifics.