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Federal-state law conflict benefits military vet divorcee

One of the most misunderstood things about the United States justice system is the various levels of jurisdiction. On the one hand, Louisiana and the other states pass their own laws regarding various issues. On the other, there are federal laws addressing some of those same issues. One of the toughest challenges our courts face is determining which set of laws should take precedence. There is a general rule that says federal law preempts state law. But knowing when competing laws are present can be sometimes tricky.

Divorce and the myriad facets of personal interconnection that come into play when a marriage dissolves is one social issue that creates a lot of confusion. And if it happens to be a military divorce, the complexity can become magnified. Sorting out the issues and making the best case on behalf of one or both of the parties usually requires the help of an experienced attorney.

An example of what we mean comes from our neighbor to the east. It involves the disposition of military disability benefits and whether they should be subject to equitable distribution as part of a military divorce settlement.

Here's the background. A military veteran and his wife divorced. As part of the settlement, the courts ruled that the man should give the ex-wife 40 percent of his disposable military retirement pay. But following the divorce, the veteran took advantage of policies and designated 60 percent of his retirement pay as disability, effectively reducing the amount of "retirement" he would have to pay his ex.

The ex-wife went to court and a judge ruled in her favor, ordering the veteran to pay 40 percent of the disability money. But on appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the decision. The high court said that federal law exempts military disability payments from alimony and that federal law trumps state law.

Given the nuances of family law and the complexity of military divorce processes in particular; it is always advisable to consult an attorney so that one's rights are protected.

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

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