Howell v. Howell

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Preemption
  • Date Filed: May 15, 2017
  • Case #: No. 15–1031
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: BREYER, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. GORSUCH, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

§1408(a)(4)(B) preempts a state court from indemnifying a veteran’s former spouse for their lost portion of retirement that was awarded in a divorce proceeding and which was subsequently waived for the veteran to receive disability benefits under the statute.

Respondent, a veteran, waived a portion of his retirement pay that was awarded to Petitioner in the parties' divorce proceedings in order to receive disability under §1408(a)(4)(B). Petitioner sought an order from the family court to modify the divorce decree to increase Petitioner’s percentage of Respondent’s retirement pay to cover for the lost portion. The petition was granted and the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a split in authority among the states. The Court cited Mansell v. Mansell, 490 U. S. 581, 594–595 (1989), holding that the federal statute permitting veterans to waive portions of their retirement in exchange for tax-free disability pay preempted the state family court from “indemnifying” Petitioner for her lost portion. The Court noted that the retirement was subject to a subsequent reduction in value, and the family court had the discretion to award the Petitioner a larger portion of the retirement to account for that loss. The determination must be made at the time the decree is entered; not after. REVERSED.

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