Armed Forces News

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a blow to some divorced spouses who collect a share of military retired pay.

In May the high court ruled that state courts can not require a veteran to compensate a divorced spouse for a loss of retired pay agreed to in a divorce settlement if that amount decreases as a result of the veteran being awarded disability pay.

The case involved an Air Force retiree who divorced years ago, with half of his retired pay going to his ex as part of the divorce agreement. Thirteen years later, however, the VA granted the airman a partial service-connected disability, for a condition related to an injury he sustained by active duty.

Under federal law, most military retirees who also are determined by VA to have a service-connected disability cannot collect both pays. Rather, their military retirement pay is reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of VA disability pay they get.

As such, when the airman’s military retirement pay was reduced by the amount of VA compensation he collected, his ex’s share was reduced proportionally.

She sued him for the full amount, and prevailed in the Arizona court system. The state’s family court and supreme court upheld her right to the same amount of money she had received under the divorce decree, even though the amount of military retirement pay he got had diminished.

He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously – 8-0 – in his favor. (Justice Neil Gorsuch did not take part in the decision.)
In reversing the decision, Justice Steven Breyer wrote, “A state court may not order a veteran to indemnify a divorced spouse for the loss in the divorced spouse’s portion of the veteran’s retirement pay caused by the veteran’s waiver of retirement pay to receive service-related disability benefits.”