After a divorce, one spouse often looks to the other to provide ongoing financial support. Alimony payments are especially common in cases where there is a great disparity in the spouses’ earning potential or where one spouse stayed home to care for the family while the other went to work.

Generally speaking, alimony is calculated by looking at the standard of living the couple has been accustomed to and then comparing the receiving spouse’s financial need with the paying spouse’s income and ability to pay. When the paying spouse is a former member of the military, however, this calculus becomes a lot more complicated.

Currently, nearly all states allow military disability benefits to be used in calculating alimony payments. It appears, though, that this trend is beginning to change.

Earlier this year, a disabled veteran petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to decide whether states should be allowed order disabled veterans to share their disability payments with former spouses. The Court has not said whether it will take the case. However, in the beginning of September the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that veterans cannot be required to share military retirement pay that is converted into disability benefits.

The case involved a veteran who was ordered to pay alimony to his ex-wife. The divorce order required him to pay 40 percent of his “disposable military retirement pay.” After the divorce, he was given a 60 percent disability rating, and some of his retirement benefits were therefore converted to disability pay. He did not share his disability benefits with his ex-wife.

Ultimately, the Mississippi court ruled that the veteran should not be required to share his disability benefits. In doing so, it determined that federal law prohibited the benefits from being awarded as alimony.

It remains to be seen what, if any, effect this case will have on military divorces in Arkansas.

Source: Sun Herald, “State high court says no divorce share of military benefits,” Jack Elliott, Jr., Sept. 3, 2012.

To learn more about the special circumstances of military divorces, please visit our military divorce page.