ILNews

COA rules on military benefits to former spouses

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Ruling on the issue for the first time, the Indiana Court of Appeals has held that a military spouse may not, by a post-decree waiver of retirement pay in favor of disability benefits or combat-related special compensation, unilaterally and voluntarily reduce the benefits awarded to the former spouse in a dissolution decree.

The issue arose in Victor J. Bandini v. JoAnn M. Bandini,
No. 49A04-1001-DR-26, in which Victor Bandini, who served in the military for more than 20 years, challenged whether the trial court properly concluded that the parties’ settlement agreement, incorporated into the dissolution decree, entitles JoAnn Bandini to 50 percent of his gross military retirement pay, including amounts he waived in order to receive Veterans Administration disability benefits and Combat-Related Special Compensation, which isn’t considered retirement pay.

As a part of their agreement, JoAnn was entitled to half of Victor’s military retirement/pension plan, including survivor benefits. She began receiving her half of his gross benefits, minus the amounts of disability benefits and survivor benefit premiums. That amount was dramatically reduced when Victor elected to receive CRSC, which is nontaxable and not subject to the provisions of the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act. He received less in benefits each month that were able to go to his ex-wife.

JoAnn demanded payment of the difference between half of Victor’s gross retirement pay and the reduced amount she was receiving due to his taking the CRSC. The trial court found the settlement agreement entitles JoAnn to half of his gross military retirement pay, Victor was in contempt, and that he must pay part of JoAnn’s attorney’s fees.

The appellate court agreed with Victor that the trial court erred in ordering him to pay JoAnn half of his gross retirement pay, which included amounts he had waived in order to receive VA disability benefits and CRSC or deducted from gross retirement pay as survivor benefit plan costs. Citing Mansell v. Mansell, 490 U.S. 581 (1989), and Griffin v. Griffin, 872 N.E.2d 653 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), the judges held Indiana trial courts lack authority to enforce “even an agreed-upon division of property insofar as it divides amounts of gross military retirement pay that were, previously to the decree, waived to receive disability benefits or elected to be deducted from gross pay as SBP costs to benefit the former spouse.”

The trial court erred because Victor’s election to receive the VA disability benefits and his survivor benefit plan annuity preceded their dissolution decree, wrote Judge Margret Robb. The issue of post-decree waivers of retirement pay wasn’t addressed in Griffin, so for the first time the Court of Appeals adopted the view that forbids a military spouse from using a post-decree waiver of retirement pay to unilaterally diminish the benefits award to the other spouse in the dissolution.

“Thus, while Husband’s election of CRSC was a right provided him by Congress, federal law did not give Husband the authority to simultaneously invoke that right and reduce the amounts received by Wife under the terms of the dissolution decree,” wrote Judge Robb. “Further, Indiana law prohibits Husband’s election of CRSC from defeating the finality of the dissolution decree and the intent of the parties’ settlement agreement incorporated therein.”

The judges remanded for entry of an order that Victor compensate JoAnn, both prospective and as to the existing arrearage, for the decrease in her share of retirement pay caused by his taking of the CRSC. They also affirmed finding him in contempt and the order he pay part of JoAnn’s attorney’s fees.
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

ADVERTISEMENT