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Court: retirement pay exempt from alimony in military divorce

Military divorce cases tend to be more challenging than civilian divorces for several reasons, including the logistical issues associated with overseas deployments, the special regulations concerning child support, and the treatment/allocation of military health care, retirement and disability benefits.

As we mentioned in a previous blog post on the disability benefits question in June, Tennessee family courts can include veteran's disability benefits when calculating child support and spousal support payments in military divorce cases. As we also mentioned, however, there is some uncertainty here because -- as demonstrated by a recent ruling issued in one of our neighboring states -- federal law and prior precedents have been interpreted by state courts in different ways.

Last week, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision to include a veteran's disability benefits for purposes of property division in a divorce. The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court's 1989 ruling in Mansell v. Mansell in support of its decision and specifically noted the lack of a clear consensus in the treatment of military disability benefits in nearby states in its written opinion.

In Mansell, it was held that federal law does not allow state courts to divide veterans' disability benefits in a divorce and that any money a veteran chooses to convert into tax-exempt disability benefits is excluded from the broader category of "disposable" retirement pay used in some divorce cases.

Why does it matter what Mississippi does? The short answer is that precedents from neighboring states could be used as persuasive (but not controlling) authorities to support an argument that a similar ruling should be issued in a military divorce case in Tennessee.

Source: Jackson Clarion Ledger, "Mississippi Supreme Court: Military disability benefits exempt from divorce settlement agreement," Sept. 3, 2012

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