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Supreme Court rules in military divorce benefits case

Based on a Supreme Court ruling on May 15, an ex-spouse of a Missouri veteran might have his or her share of that veteran's retirement pay cut if that veteran's retirement pay is reduced because of a waiver to receive disability benefits. In the case that reached the nation's highest court, a couple divorced in 1991 and agreed that the wife would receive half of the husband's retirement benefits. After the man's retirement in 1992, they both collected retirement pay.

In 2005, the Department of Veteran Affairs approved a claim from the man dealing with a degenerative joint disease in his shoulder that he said was a result of his military service. He began receiving monthly disability payments from the VA, but this meant his retirement pay was reduced by an equal amount. Therefore, both the man and his former spouse began receiving $127 less each month. In 2013, the woman filed a motion to try and get the money reinstated. Both the family court and the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that under state law, her ex-husband's disability payments should not deprive her of the full amount of the retirement pay that she was due.

However, the Supreme Court, citing a 1989 California case, ruled that the waived portion of the pay was not community property. It said that the state could not increase the amount the man's ex-wife received.

There are a number of aspects of property division in military divorce that are unique to people in the military. For example, the amount of time the marriage lasted may be significant in terms of whether a spouse is entitled to retirement pay. Therefore, if a couple is considering a divorce and either of them is in the military, they may want to speak to their respective attorneys about what benefits might be available.

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