A court’s ruling in a Southern California divorce case from San Diego, along with a bill making its way through the legislature in far-away Oklahoma, are bringing new attention to military retirement pay and how it is treated in divorce cases here in Orange County and elsewhere around the country.
According to a press release republished by PR Log, the San Diego case turned on the proper implementation of a 1997 California divorce settlement of a couple in which the husband was in the military. After the ex-husband retired in 2007, the ex-wife alleged, he failed to uphold their agreement.
The California case focused on what were essentially technicalities regarding the drafting and implementation of the original agreement and the wife’s contention that these led to her being denied the full portion of her husband’s military retirement pay to which she was entitled. If proposed legislation in Oklahoma passes, however, that share could shrink for spouses in future cases – a prospect that has other legislatures paying close attention and has sparked warnings that Oklahoma might become a haven for armed forces members seeking to dissolve their marriages.
The Oklahoma legislation would overrule a long-held federal standard that grants divorcees half of their ex-spouse’s military pension. It would give those married less than ten years no right at all to an ex’s military pension and would cut off pension payments if the spouse remarried. Even more significantly, it would make the pension distinct from other military benefits, such as danger pay and hostile fire pay, eliminating the ability of non-military ex’s to claim a portion of those monies as part of a military divorce.
We will have to watch the Oklahoma legislation closely over the coming months, both to see whether it passes and to judge its effect here in California and in other states. As I have written on previous occasions, military service poses special problems and especially complex legal issues during an Orange County divorce proceeding. Division of assets and child custody issues are often stretched across state lines and can become unusually thorny. It is important for any Orange County divorce lawyer to stay on top of developments, like those in Oklahoma, which have the potential to impact divorcing couples here in California, whether by prompting new legislative moves in our own state, or by creating an apparent ‘safe-haven’ in which unscrupulous spouses may attempt to hide their assets during a contentious divorce proceeding.