U.S. Supreme Court Rules On Arizona Military Divorce Case

By Carrie Jung
Published: Tuesday, May 16, 2017 - 7:38am

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued a ruling in a military divorce case out of Arizona. The issue surrounded how and if an ex spouse should be reimbursed when a retired service member receives VA disability payments.

When John Howell and his wife Sandra divorced she was awarded half of his military retirement pay. At issue is a decision John made 14 years later when he applied for VA disability payments. Because disability benefits offset retirement pay and can’t be split through divorce settlements, Sandra’s monthly allotments decreased.

Lower courts had ruled that because John had other sources of income, Sandra’s allotment should not have decreased.

Mark Sullivan, a family law attorney who specializes in military divorce, said Monday’s ruling was surprising.

"The courts of most of the states have held that a former spouse is entitled to reimbursement when a retiree unilaterally acts without permission of the court or without consent of the former spouse to take VA disability compensation and then that reduces the pension share of the former spouse," Sullivan said. 

Sullivan said one way former military spouses could avoid financial losses in similar situations, is to address terms for reimbursement directly in the divorce settlement.

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