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Military divorce benefits case before U. S. Supreme Court

A couple who divorced over a quarter of a century ago currently has their case under the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court.

When the couple first settled their property division back in 1991, the wife was awarded 50 percent of her ex-spouse's pension benefits from the Air Force. But that changed in 2005, when her husband surrendered a portion of his retirement in order to qualify for disability payments.

This wound up cutting his ex-wife out of a big chunk of her monthly funds, and she sued him.

The case wound its way through the courts, with the wife always winning. In 2015, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that she was entitled to 50 percent of her former husband's entire benefits — pension and disability.

This rose the ire of veterans groups that filed amicus briefs in the case now before the high court.

Since 1982, ex-spouses have been able to claim up to 50 percent of their veteran spouses' pension benefits, as per the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act. One Supreme Court case from 1989, Mansell v. Mansell, ruled, however, that disability benefits were exempt under the law.

In that case, the veteran already forfeited a portion of his pension before he got divorced so he could qualify for disability. But for the current case, the trade-off occurred years after the former couple finalized their divorce.

Military divorces can be a bit more complex than many civilian splits, which is why it is paramount that both the service member and the service member's spouse retain family law attorneys with high degrees of familiarity with the issues involved.

Source:, "Supreme Court to hear dispute on pension payments in Arizona divorce," Alexis Egeland, accessed April 21, 2017

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