ILNews

Court rules on military retirement benefits during divorce

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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State courts can't treat military retirement pay waived for veterans' disability pay as marital property to be divided during divorce, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

Citing caselaw from the nation's highest court, a unanimous three-judge panel reversed and remanded a Randolph County decision in William A. Griffin, Jr. v. Shari L. Griffin, No. 68A01-0611-CV-491.

William and Shari married in 1985 and divorced in 2006, agreeing as part of the dissolution to divide in half his $1,522 retirement pay from the U.S. Air Force. But when William applied for disability benefits from the Veterans Administration, he was told he'd have to waive part of his military retirement benefits. He did so and paid half of that remaining portion to his former wife, who later filed a contempt petition accusing him of failing to make the required pension payments.

Randolph Circuit Judge Jay Toney entered a post-dissolution order clarifying the parties' property settlement agreement, holding that William Griffin would have to pay Shari Griffin 50 percent of his total military retirement income, including disability payments.

The appellate court disagreed, citing Supreme Court of the United States decisions in Mansell v. Mansell, 490 U.S. 581, 109 S. Ct. 2023 (Mansell I) that held VA disability benefits are not divisible marital property. Shari Griffin had argued at the lower level Mansell I didn't apply because of subsequent decisions on remand.

"Following Mansell I, the statute in question has undergone revisions, but the basis for the Mansell I opinion remains in the statute - state courts do not have the authority to treat military retirement pay that has been waived to receive veterans' disability benefits as property divisible upon divorce," the court wrote.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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