Veterans’ Disability Case Howell v. Howell

U.S. Supreme Court Veterans’ Disability Case
Howell v. Howell

The Court’s Opinion published today stems from an Arizona spousal maintenance case involving a disabled Air Force veteran.  In the divorce, the Howells’s Decree awarded fifty percent of Mr. Howell’s future retirement pay to Mrs. Howell as community property. Subsequently, Mr. Howell waived a portion of his military retirement pay to receive disability benefits.  The waiver reduced Mrs. Howell’s support by $125.00 per month.
Based on a Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, 10 U.S.C. Section 1408, Congress allows states to treat veterans’ “disposable retired pay” as community property, however, excludes pay that is a result of a waiver. In contrast, the Arizona courts found the divorce decree gave Mrs. Howell a vested interest in the retirement pay and ordered that the designated share be paid, without regard for the disability, arguing that due to the waiver after the division of retirement pay, federal law did not preempt the family court’s reimbursement order. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the case.

Mr. Howell will not have to indemnify his former wife for the amount of support she lost due to his waiver of a portion of his retirement pay that enables him to receive disability benefits.

For the entire text of the Opinion, click here.