Persian Gulf Wars. After twenty years, he retired honorably and began receiving
his military pension.
In 1974, while continuing his career as a sailor, he married J. They remained
married until 2003, when the marriage ended in divorce. In their California
divorce settlement, P and J agreed that P would pay J $475.00 per month
– one half of P’s monthly military retirement stipend she
was entitled to during their 17 years of marriage.
Federal law allows each state to determine how military pensions should
be divided among divorcing spouses. California is a community property
state, and considers a military pension earned during the marriage to
be community property. Thus, if the couple divorces, the military spouse
and the non-military spouse are each entitled to one-half of the pension
earned during the marriage. (In this situation, P earned a pension for
20 years of service. He and J were married for 17 years, and J would be
entitled to one-half of the value of the pension for 17 years. P and J
agreed that J’s share would be $475.00 per month.)
P continued to pay J $475.00 per month until 2014 when the Department of
Veterans’ Affairs offered P the opportunity to convert his military
pension into combat-related special compensation benefits. (He was entitled
to this conversion because he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder
from his military service.) The monthly stipend amount would be the same,
but under federal law, the amount would be tax free. P elected to receive
the compensation benefit instead of his regular military pension, and
later stopped paying J her portion of his military retirement.
According to federal law, P’s military pension was community property;
however, his special compensation benefits were considered his sole property,
because they were to compensate him personally for his injuries during
Since the monthly stipend P now received was his sole property, he believed
he no longer had an obligation to pay J her portion of his military pension,
and stopped sending her money. J went back into court requesting P continue
making payments to her in the amount $475.00 per month.
The trial court agreed with J and ordered P to pay J $475.00 per month
(plus back payments and interest). P appealed.
The Appellate Court agreed with the trial court stating: “…It
is a settled principle that one spouse cannot, by invoking a condition
wholly within his control, defeat the community interest of the other
spouse…” In other words, just because P had complete control of
how he received his monthly stipend, he could not prevent J from receiving
her fair share of it.