A Veteran's Tale

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 military service.

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.

Categories: Divorce, Property Division
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