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Court Asked to Determine Military Benefits During Divorce

Little Rock military families going through a divorce may soon find themselves facing issues over whether or not the veteran spouse's Veteran's Administration disability benefits are included as part of spousal support.

Recently, a disabled veteran asked the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider whether states violate federal law when they ask a former servicemember to turn over part of his or her disability benefits as spousal support. Currently, all states but Vermont allow VA disability benefits to be used when calculating alimony. This is based on a 1987 Supreme Court decision, which stated that the purpose of VA disability benefits is to compensate the veteran "and his family."

A decision to exclude benefits from support payments will have a huge impact on a large number of military families. It is common for families to depend on these benefits and assume they will continue even if the family later dissolves.

The petition from the disabled veteran argues that once the veteran is divorced, a former spouse is no longer considered part of the family and therefore should not receive any portion of the VA payments. Benefits are also normally higher if the veteran has a spouse, to recognize the spouse's sacrifice of living with a disabled veteran. It is also argued that once the veteran is no longer married, the higher benefits should stop.

Another key argument is that the VA benefits are designed to compensate for loss of income because of a physical or mental condition. A former spouse who does not have one of these conditions should not continue to receive benefits as if they did.

If this petition is approved and merits review by the Supreme Court, it could mean significant changes for Little Rock military families.

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

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