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Rules change for retirement pay after military divorce

Texas men and women who serve in the military have long protested laws regarding the division of their retirement pay during divorce. Military divorce comes with unique rules meant to protect both servicemembers and their civilian spouses, and this involves the splitting of military retirement pay by as much as 50 percent. Although states have some leeway in deciding how much a civilian spouse receives after a divorce, a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision may change that.

Currently, if a veteran is eligible for disability pay rating 40 percent or less, the vet must relinquish an equal amount of his or her retirement pay to avoid taxes. This means that if an ex-spouse receives a portion of that retirement pay, and it is cut so the vet can receive disability, the veteran must replace the  former spouse’s portion with part of the disability pay. Many states interpreted this to mean that reimbursement should take place even if the vet does not receive disability until years after divorcing.

However, in Howell v. Howell, the Supreme Court ruled that retirement money waived for disability pay is not necessarily divisible property, especially if the waiver occurs after the divorce. In fact, family law courts must take into consideration the possibility that a civilian spouse’s share of a veteran’s retirement pay may go down if the vet claims disability pay. The Supreme Court ruling operates to protect the disability pay a veteran receives.

It is uncertain whether this ruling will affect any court orders already in effect. Those in Texas who have gone through a military divorce may have questions about how the ruling will impact their share of retirement pay. Bringing those questions to an experienced attorney will ensure one receives the help and advice needed.

Source:, “Court decision could change military divorce settlements“, Tom Philpott, June 2, 2017

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