Supreme Court to hear case on military spousal support

On behalf of Jarrell, Hicks & Waldman, PC posted in Military Family Law on Friday, May 25, 2012.

Those in the military who are going through a divorce are waiting to hear about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would decide whether states are violating federal law when they allow divorce courts to count a veteran's disability compensation when calculating spousal support. Also at issue is whether disability benefits should be viewed as communal property to be divided in a divorce just like other marital assets.

The case that is being reviewed is one between an Air Force veteran and his ex wife. The two divorced after nearly 20 years of marriage and the Oregon district court considered the veteran's disability payments when he was told to pay $1,000 a month in spousal support. The veteran feels that this is unfair since his only income comes from Veterans Administration benefits and Social Security Disability Insurance, which is a tax-free total of approximately $4,400 a month.

The man suffers from post-traumatic stress and is unemployable. Because of this, he is eligible to draw VA compensation at the 100 percent disabled rate. At his Oregon trial, his attorney argued that including the disability pay in calculating spousal support violates federal law. The court denied his argument as did the Oregon court of appeals.

He has now taken his argument to the Supreme Court arguing that Title 38 U.S. Code, Section 5301(a) makes VA disability benefits immune "from taxation, claims of creditors, attachment, levy and seizure." His attorney is arguing that it doesn't bar inclusion of disability pay in spousal support calculations. In addition, every state is viewing disability pay differently and the attorney feels that states could be ignoring federal law.

The hope for this case is that the court addresses how states should interpret the law and to clarify the law to help disabled veterans. For a review of the case at the Supreme Court level, at least four justices have to agree to it.

Source: HeraldNet, "Ruling sought on split of military benefits in divorce," Tom Philpott, May 21, 2012

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