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Court decision could affect some divorced Arkansas military couples

Part of our broad-based family law practice at Robertson, Oswalt & Associates (with offices in Little Rock and additional locales across Arkansas) focuses upon our proven legal representation in divorces involving current and former military couples. Arkansas has a sizable military population, and we duly cater to that demographic with knowledgeable and client-empathetic advocacy across a wide universe of family law matters.

As we note on our website, "Military divorces present unique factors that do not arise in civilian divorces."

Here's one, as chronicled in a recent media report on a case scheduled for oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court this week: a determination of a former spouse's entitlement to her ex-husband's military retirement pay when, specifically, he purposefully modifies the divorce agreement reached by waiving a portion of his retirement benefits years later to receive disability payments.

Candidly, the matter is somewhat complicated, and not something that has a parallel in civilian divorces. The couple agreed on a 50/50 split of benefits when they divorced, with that arrangement continuing for years. When the former husband subsequently had that pay reduced in favor of disability benefits, though, the amount received by the wife was appreciably reduced.

She saw that as unfair, and argued that the after-settlement modification of what had been agreed upon was unlawful. In effect, it eroded her entitlement, while increasing her husband's payments. Courts in her state agreed with that.

The matter is now on appeal to the nation's highest tribunal. The husband argues that relevant military legislation exempts disability benefits from what is deemed "disposable retirement pay" that his former spouse can claim a piece of.

His former partner argues that the court could never logically undercut the purpose of the cited law to protect military spouses in a divorce. She states further that an opinion favoring her ex-husband would sanction results in cases where unilateral alterations to retirement benefits were made after spouses had negotiated terms pursuant to divorcing.

And, too, she says that the justices might reasonably acknowledge the central input of state authorities in the family law realm and not preempt decisions made by officials with close knowledge of litigated disputes.

We will keep readers duly apprised of any material details that emerge following oral arguments and as the court further considers the matter.

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