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Supreme Court may review military benefits in divorce

Some states allow courts that are awarding spousal support payments in a divorce to include disability benefits awarded to military veterans in calculating the amount of the support. Others do not. One veteran has now petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the conflict between the states and determine whether the inclusion of a veteran's disability benefits in a spousal support determination violates their rights under federal law. Those in New Orleans and elsewhere involved in a military divorce will be interested to see what will be decided.

Also at issue in the case is whether a state can consider the veteran's disability benefits to be marital property. In Louisiana, which is a community property state, these benefits would be subject to equitable distribution in a property settlement.

The immediate case involves the divorce of a veteran of the Air Force who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. His marriage crumbled after twenty years. Because of his disability, which renders him unemployable, he lives on only two income sources: veterans' disability benefits and disability benefits from Social Security. In all, he collects about $4,400 a month. In awarding his ex-wife $1,000 a month in spousal support payments, the divorce court included in his income the veteran's disability benefits.

His attorney is arguing that a federal law makes such veterans disability benefits immune from creditor's claims, and that claims by a divorcing spouse should be similarly barred. On the other side of the argument, some argue that a veteran's disability benefits are intended to provide income for both the disabled veteran and his family, which would include an ex-spouse.

Currently, Louisiana is among the states that allow military veteran benefits to be considered when determining the amount of child or spousal support. Whether this will change or not remains to be seen.

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

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