Military pension dispute reaches US Supreme Court

pension sharing

The US Supreme Court has agreed to intervene in a bitter dispute over a woman’s righto a share of her ex- husband’s military pension.

The case concerns a couple who lived in Arizona before their divorce in 1991. The husband retired from the US Air Force the following year. Under federal law his former wife received a 50 per cent share of his military pension.

More than a decade later her ex-husband began to suffer from a degenerative joint disease related to his time in the Air Force and he therefore also became entitled to disability payments.

Curiously however, under US law deductions are made from military retirement pay equal to the amount of disability payments received, so there is no net gain. And as a result of the reductions in the former pilot’s pension, his ex-wife also began to receive less.

She launched legal action, seeking the 50 per cent share she had originally been entitled to. She asked the family courts to order her ex-husband to make up the reductions from his disability payments.

He resisted, arguing that Arizona law forbade the award of other assets if a military pension was reduced, and the case went all the way to the state Supreme Court. A family court, a subsequent appeal court and the Arizona Supreme Court all ruled in the ex-wife’s favour.

But the US Supreme Court has still chosen to examine the issues raised. Justices will rule on the following formal legal question:

“Whether the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act preempts a state court’s order directing a veteran to indemnify a former spouse for a reduction in the former spouse’s portion of the veteran’s military retirement pay, where that reduction results from the veteran’s post-divorce waiver of retirement pay in order to receive compensation for a service-connected disability.”

Image by marada via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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