Justia Military Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Family Law
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In July 2018, Leanne Hoff Bilger sued Joshua Bilger for legal separation. Bilger executed an admission of service, acknowledging he received the summons and complaint, settlement agreement and an exhibit relating to division of property and debts. The parties executed the settlement agreement which stated Bilger was a member of the armed forces. The district court issued an order for judgment, and the clerk of court entered a judgment granting the parties a legal separation. Joshua appealed a district court order denying his motion to dismiss and vacate the judgment for legal separation, arguing the court erred in finding the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act did not apply. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the Act applied; however, Bilger failed to invoke the protections of the Act. View "Bilger v. Bilger" on Justia Law

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Louise and Frank married in 2000. Frank had served in the Air Force from 1974-1980 and, in 1989, began working for the Illinois State Police. While married, the parties paid $9626.40 to the State Retirement System, purchasing 48 months of permissive military service credit, 40 ILCS 5/14-103(j). Frank retired in 2011. In 2014, Louise filed a dissolution petition. The parties could not agree on the division of Frank’s pension. As of 2015, Frank’s monthly annuity payment was $9088.86. The purchased permissive service credit increased the monthly payment by $1363.33. The parties agreed that Louise should receive 50% of the marital portion of the pension but disagreed on whether the marital portion included the amount attributable to the permissive service credit. The trial court held that the permissive service credit was nonmarital because “what was purchased to enhance the pension ... was military time earned prior to the marriage” and ordered Frank to reimburse Louise $4813.20. The appellate court reversed, reasoning that Frank did not acquire the credit at the time of his military service. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, in favor of Louise. The permissive service credit was not “acquired” under that term’s ordinary and popularly understood meaning when Frank completed four years of active duty military service. Frank did not obtain or come into possession or control of the credit when he completed his active duty military service; his prior military service, by itself, does not have any value relative to his Illinois pension under the Pension Code. View "In re Marriage of Zamudio" on Justia Law

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Kelley Kohler (Father) and Carolynn Chambers (Mother) were the biological parents of R.L.K., born April 17, 2012. Father received orders directing him to report for basic training and advanced individual training with the United States Army National Guard. Prior to leaving, Father filed a motion seeking an order authorizing the temporary transfer of his custody and visitation rights with R.L.K. to his spouse. Father maintained he was a "deploying parent" under the Oklahoma Deployed Parents Custody and Visitation Act. The trial court found the ODPCVA was controlling and vested Father's wife with the right to exercise visitation with R.L.K. during his absence. Mother appealed the judgment arguing the trial court erred as a matter of law by finding Father was a "deploying parent" as defined by the ODPCVA. In a case of first impression for the Oklahoma Supreme Court, it reversed the trial court, finding Father was not a "deploying parent" because his temporary transfer was not "in support of combat, contingency operation, or natural disaster" as mandated by 43 O.S.2011 section 150.1. View "Kohler v. Chambers" on Justia Law

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Robert and Janice married in 1964; in 1986, they divorced. In the meantime, after 20 years of service, Robert had retired from the United States Air Force. In a stipulated judgment, the trial court awarded Janice her community property interest in Robert’s military retired pay. In 2012, it was determined that Robert had a combat-related disability. As a result, he became eligible to receive both veteran’s disability benefits and combat-related special compensation (CRSC); to do so, however, he had to waive his retired pay. Before the waiver, Robert received $791 a month and Janice received $541 in retired pay (taxable). After the waiver, Robert received $1,743 a month in veteran’s disability benefits and $1,389 a month in CRSC, for a total of $3,132 (tax-free); Janice received nothing. The trial court ordered Robert to start paying Janice $541 a month in permanent and nonmodifiable spousal support. Robert appealed, contending: (1) under federal law, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to make any award to Janice based on Robert’s receipt of either veteran’s disability benefits or CRSC; (2) the trial court erred by using spousal support as a remedy for the loss of a community property interest; (3) the trial court erred by making its award of spousal support nonmodifiable; (4) because the judgment dividing the community property was long-since final, the trial court could not give Janice any remedy for the loss of her community property interest in the retired pay; (5) all of Robert's income was exempt, therefore could not be required to satisfy Janice's claim; and (6) Janice was not entitled to spousal support, and the trial court abused its discretion by finding otherwise. The Court of Appeal agreed federal law prohibited the trial court from compensating Janice, in the form of spousal support or otherwise, for the loss of her share of Robert’s retired pay. However, it could properly modify spousal support, provided it did so based on the relevant factors and not as compensation. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with directions to hold a new trial on Janice’s request for a modification of spousal support. View "In re Marriage of Cassinelli" on Justia Law

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Robert and Janice married in 1964; in 1986, they divorced. In the meantime, after 20 years of service, Robert had retired from the United States Air Force. In a stipulated judgment, the trial court awarded Janice her community property interest in Robert’s military retired pay. In 2012, it was determined that Robert had a combat-related disability. As a result, he became eligible to receive both veteran’s disability benefits and combat-related special compensation (CRSC); to do so, however, he had to waive his retired pay. Before the waiver, Robert received $791 a month and Janice received $541 in retired pay (taxable). After the waiver, Robert received $1,743 a month in veteran’s disability benefits and $1,389 a month in CRSC, for a total of $3,132 (tax-free); Janice received nothing. The trial court ordered Robert to start paying Janice $541 a month in permanent and nonmodifiable spousal support. Robert appealed, contending: (1) under federal law, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to make any award to Janice based on Robert’s receipt of either veteran’s disability benefits or CRSC; (2) the trial court erred by using spousal support as a remedy for the loss of a community property interest; (3) the trial court erred by making its award of spousal support nonmodifiable; (4) because the judgment dividing the community property was long-since final, the trial court could not give Janice any remedy for the loss of her community property interest in the retired pay; (5) all of Robert's income was exempt, therefore could not be required to satisfy Janice's claim; and (6) Janice was not entitled to spousal support, and the trial court abused its discretion by finding otherwise. The Court of Appeal agreed federal law prohibited the trial court from compensating Janice, in the form of spousal support or otherwise, for the loss of her share of Robert’s retired pay. However, it could properly modify spousal support, provided it did so based on the relevant factors and not as compensation. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with directions to hold a new trial on Janice’s request for a modification of spousal support. View "In re Marriage of Cassinelli" on Justia Law

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A state court may not order a veteran to indemnify a divorced spouse for the loss in the spouse’s portion of the veteran’s retirement pay caused by the veteran’s waiver of retirement pay to receive service-related disability benefits.The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act authorizes states to treat veterans’ “disposable retired pay” as community property divisible upon divorce, 10 U.S.C. 1408, excluding amounts deducted from that pay “as a result of a waiver . . . required by law in order to receive” disability benefits. In their divorce, Sandra was awarded 50% of John’s future Air Force retirement pay, which she began to receive when John retired. Years later, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that John was partially disabled due to an earlier service-related injury. To receive disability pay, John gave up an equivalent amount of retirement pay, 38 U.S.C. 5305. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed a family court order that Sandra receive her full 50% regardless of the waiver. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. John’s military pay was subject to a future contingency. State courts cannot “vest” that which they lack the authority to give. Family courts remain free to consider the contingency that some military retirement pay might be waived or consider reductions in value when calculating or recalculating the need for spousal support. View "Howell v. Howell" on Justia Law

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In 1964, appellant Robert Cassinelli and respondent Janice Cassinelli were married; in 1986, they divorced. In the meantime, after 20 years of service, Robert had retired from the United States Air Force. In a stipulated judgment, the trial court awarded Janice her community property interest in Robert’s military retired pay. In 2012, it was determined that Robert had a combat-related disability. As a result, he became eligible to receive both veteran’s disability benefits and combat-related special compensation (CRSC); to do so, however, he had to waive his retired pay. Before the waiver, Robert received $791 a month and Janice received $541 in retired pay (taxable). After the waiver, Robert received $1,743 a month in veteran’s disability benefits and $1,389 a month in CRSC, for a total of $3,132 (tax-free); Janice received zero. As a result, the trial court ordered Robert to start paying Janice $541 a month in permanent and nonmodifiable spousal support. Robert appealed. The Court of Appeals agreed that the trial court erred by using spousal support as a remedy for the loss of a community property interest. However, it could properly order Robert to reimburse Janice for her lost community property interest; doing so would not have violated either federal law or finality principles. Accordingly, the Court reversed and remanded with directions to enter an order awarding Janice the same amount on a different theory. View "Marr. of Cassinelli" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeals' review was whether one spouse’s unilateral election (after a settlement agreement and judgment of dissolution) to change from one type of military benefit (retirement that was taxable and community property) to another type of military benefit (combat-related special compensation that was not taxable and separate property) could defeat the community property interest of the other spouse set forth in the marital settlement agreement. The Court determined that one spouse could not, by invoking a condition wholly within his control, defeat the community interest of the other spouse. The trial court here correctly determined that "the post-judgment election" by appellant Philip Chapman did not relieve him of his agreement to pay respondent Judy Chapman $475 per month for her community property share of his military retirement. The Court reversed the trial court’s order, however, because the remedy the court selected was improper. The trial court imposed a constructive trust on the funds received by Philip as combat-related special compensation benefits. But the remedy of a constructive trust was available only for wrongful conduct. View "Marriage of Chapman" on Justia Law

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Mother Mari M. appealed a juvenile court order that her son M.M., born June 2013, was a child described by Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, subdivision (a). The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency received a report of severe domestic violence between mother and Rogers M., minor's father, which had taken place on December 2, 2014 and which had been witnessed by minor. The domestic violence included father choking mother while holding minor; father throwing mother into a piano, a table and onto the floor while minor was "at their feet"; father pinning mother on the floor at least two times; father breaking mother's phone; and mother hitting and kicking father and shredding his shirt among other allegations. The December 2 domestic violence incident came to light two days later when Mother contacted father's naval command and sought a military protective order (MPO). Mother contended the juvenile court erred when it: (1) assumed permanent jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act after officials and a supreme court judge from minor's "home state" of Japan unambiguously and repeatedly stated it was inappropriate under their legal system for a Japanese court to communicate with the juvenile court regarding this case; (2) failed to advise her that she could commence a separate custody action in Japan; and (3) found minor a dependent under subdivision (a) of Welfare and Institutions Code section 300, rather than under subdivision (b) of that statute. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "In re M.M." on Justia Law

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Mr. and Ms. Haynes divorced in 1995. Mr. Haynes died in 2000. Ms. Haynes sought Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1310, as a “surviving spouse.” Because Ms. Haynes was not married to Mr. Haynes at the time of his death, the VA Regional Office denied the claim. Ms. Haynes later requested that the Regional Office reopen her claim on the presentation of new documentation showing a decision by the Army Board of Correction of Military Records to award Ms. Haynes an annuity as a “former spouse” under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act , 10 U.S.C. 1447(10), which permits former spouses to receive annuities. The Regional Office denied the request. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals agreed, while acknowledging Ms. Haynes’ argument that because the basis for her divorce was physical abuse, she should not be required to demonstrate marriage at the time of Mr. Haynes’ death in order to receive DIC benefits. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed. Although Mr. Haynes’ abusive actions were documented, the statute requires validly married spouses at the time of the veteran’s death. View "Haynes v. McDonald" on Justia Law