Howell v. Howell; USSC rules in favor of servicemembers

| May 18, 2017

According to Military Times, an Arizona court awarded John Howell’s ex-wife Sandra half of his military retirement pay as part of a divorce settlement. In 2005, John was awarded a disability claim from the Veterans’ Affairs Department of about $250/month. Because the disability was less than 50%, his retirement pay was reduced by that amount, meaning Sandra’s monthly check was reduced by about $125. She went to court to recover that sum and the state court agreed with her.

John marched the case to the Supreme Court which ruled that the state court couldn’t mandate disability pay in a divorce case because disability benefits are different from retired pay.

Adam Unikowsky, a lawyer representing John Howell, argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in March that Congress intended for veterans to keep their disability pay, as it fills the gap for pay they will no longer be able to make in the future. The goal of protecting a veteran’s pay is not temporal in nature, he said, meaning it has nothing to do with whether the veteran is eligible for disability before or after the divorce.

He further argued that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously decided, in Mansell v. Mansell, that the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act did not permit state courts to treat retirement pay that had been waived to receive veterans’ disability benefits as something that could be divided.

Sandra Howell’s lawyer argued that this case was different because her ex-husband hadn’t waived his retirement pay until after the divorce settlement was finalized. But the Supreme Court ruled that state courts did not have the authority to take John’s disability benefits, regardless of its effect on his ex-wife.

I’m sure Sandra won’t be out on the street, starving, because of her loss of the $125. She can probably get a job at Walmart to supplement the loss.

Category: Politics

Comments (49)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Roh-Dog says:

    Sweetest word in the English language, ex-wife.

    • CCO says:

      You made me think of an old girlfriend and of the song that me and the former Marine I worked with would refer to (he regarding an ex-finacee): “I Thank God for Unanswered Prayer.”

      (Shudder, as if watching that episode of “Silent Service” when the mine cable drags down the side of boat.)

    • ChipNASA says:

      I can’t wait.
      It’s the uncertainty of the outcome as, unfortunately, we have to go to court before a judge, and I’m most concerned for my kids.
      I’ve been doing the “Right” things as painful as it is by not rocking the boat, but I’m concerned about the court’s opinions based on an individual’s anatemy vs. a parent who’s been mostly the primary caregiver until someone thought taking kids away without a nailed down visitation agreement would gain them $$$.
      I’m hoping the court sees through certain individual’s shenanigans.

      • Roh-Dog says:

        I keep telling buddies that are going thru the process “Have faith, the system of Justice or Karma will come ’round”, so far I have not been wrong. Take the long view, make sure you’re ready to cut a check, budget for a monthly hit, feel sorry for yourself for a bit, get a sports car, date someone half your age, live life free.
        I should be charging a nickel…

        • ChipNASA says:

          That’s what everyone tells me, I can’t really afford to cut another monthly check, that’s my *biggest* concern.
          I know the kids will be ok. There’s a reason my 4 year old daughter calls me “Daddy Mommy”.

          • Thunderstixx says:

            In my case the fucking judge rewrote the entire law regarding Wisconsin’s shared custody laws and my stupid attorney refused to do anything about it.
            I finally gave up arguing about it and just moved to a warm climate.
            This one is a real nasty one too, I had “caring mother” arrested with a .297 BAC when she was 5 months pregnant. She spent time in jail and had to take daily breathalyzers while she was pregnant.
            Neither my surprise kid nor I are supposed to be here.
            I sometime wonder why God is keeping me around down here but then i think about that kid and remember those days.
            I just have to accept that I was there for her when nobody, and I mean nobody else was…

    • The Other Whitey says:

      Maybe for some. I’ve told my wife that if she ever wants to split up, she should just shoot me–easier for everybody that way.

      But then again, I’m happily married to an amazing woman whom I wouldn’t want to live without, so maybe that’s just me.

      • David says:

        Need to buy the wife an anniversary card this week – Sunday is 40 years from our first date.

        Damn, I coulda made parole by now…

      • Jim says:

        You’re not alone. I put more logical thinking into #2 so it’s so much better. 24 years now. By the way what do you call a social gathering that has 3 men that have slept with the same woman? A baby shower for my grandson. My X, her current husband, her second X husband and me. Throw in my X in-laws, a brass band and you have a real circus.

        • Yef says:

          Don’t get it.
          Why would the 2nd x husband be there?

          • OWB says:

            English IS my first language and I don’t get including exes in family social engagements either. They are no longer members of the family, so why are they there?

            (OK, when kids are little that dynamic can be very different, but that is a temporary situation.)

  2. MSG Eric says:

    Hopefully Congress will take heed of the Supreme Court’s decision that defines retirement pay and disability pay as two different types of money?

    I’ll have to send this to my Congressman the next time someone in that pisshole thinks they should stop “letting” veterans double-dip, as they call it.

  3. HMC Ret says:

    Damn, this is one greedy x. More involved here than $125. I’m thinking the hatred runs deep.

    • MSG Eric says:

      The comments on the page are fairly interesting as well.

      I could see if a wife/husband doesn’t work and their spouse is in the military for 20+ years, they get half. But, these days when most spouses work and make their own money, I don’t see getting “half” of a pension. Especially in the cases where they aren’t married to a service member for most of their career.

      It seems women only want “equality” when it doesn’t include free money from a man for THEM.

      And holy crap, splitting 250 bucks in disability? That’s definitely not about the money.

      • USMC Steve says:

        Don’t agree. Until the wife (typically) deploys, lives in a tiny hole on a ship, goes into combat, and does the shit we had to do they don’t deserve a penny of that money. And damned not any of the disability money if there is any. The things they have to do pale in comparison to what a lot of servicemembers had to go through just on routine duty, let alone combat action. And when the wife decides to whore around, and want a divorce, they sure as hell should not be getting any of that cash, although they routinely do.

        • MSgt (ret), USAF says:

          No disrespect intended, but its not a cake walk for the stay at home spouse either. Granted, they are not in any “mortal” danger, but shit gets rough at home when you are use to having help from your significant other. My spouse (also retired AF) and I got to see both sides of the equation a number of times.

        • Mogrith says:

          Ex should get 1/2 of disabilty pay when service member get 1/2 of disability cured and ex is disabled with the cured 1/2.

        • MSG Eric says:

          Well, if my “wife” was being a whore and I found out about it, she wouldn’t get shit from my pension. I’d make sure that was evidence in court to say, “here’s why we’re getting divorced, she’s a whore.” and that should be enough to provide that I get to keep my pension.

          If there is cheating, illegal actions, etc., as a reason for the divorce, then they shouldn’t get anything from “you” as a service member. (I’m pretty sure that is a standard precedent in divorce court?) But if it is a “we can’t do this anymore” kind of situation, that’s a separate scenario.

          In 20 years of marriage, if one is deployed and one is home taking everything at home, I can see worth in that, especially when there are children involved. Like I said, I can understand in a long-term marriage (20ish years) there being some sharing of pension, but not for that pre-deployment marriage and they get a divorce a year and a half later and expect pension from a retirement that IS bullshit.

          I was told today that in NY State, there is a specific amount given for 5 years of marriage, then 8 years, then 10 years, etc. But, after 10 years there is a more money concept that could effect pension.

          Just makes me all motivated to go out and get married….

          • Ret_25X says:

            In my experience it would not matter what you document. The money would be granted no matter what.

            There is a reason that gate vultures are a thing.

      • MrBill says:

        Normally the ex-spouse’s award is one-half of that portion of the retired pay that was earned during the marriage. Example: After ten years in the service, SGT Snuffy marries Wife, he retires at 20 years of service, and the couple subsequently divorces. Since the marriage and the service overlapped by ten years, Wife’s share of Snuffy’s pension should be one-half of ten years’ worth, or 25%. It’s widely believed that the ex automatically gets one-half of the pension and that’s not the case; it’s a function of how long the servicemember’s career was, and the length of time the marriage overlapped with the career. If the marriage coincided with the entire career then yes, the ex should expect to get half.

      • MrBill says:

        If the wife works, and has a retirement plan of her own, it can go both ways: Husband could claim one-half of Wife’s retirement, to the extent it was earned during the marriage. If there’s not a great disparity in the value of the retirement plans, often the spouses will agree that each of them will keep their own retirement, rather than splitting both.

        • MSG Eric says:

          If only it was that easy every single time people got divorced. lol

        • SFC D says:

          The former MRS D wanted half of my retirement. Until her lawyer pointed out that I could get half of her GS-12 retirement just as easily.

  4. Wilted Willy says:

    I wonder how much the blood sucking lawyers got out of the deal. The bitch was really a money hungry soul wasn’t she? He must have really pissed her off??

    • 11B-Mailclerk says:

      Next time, just find a woman you cannot stand, and buy her a house.

      its cheaper that way.

  5. Sapper3307 says:

    I bet she has a large life insurance policy on him still.

    • Jonn Lilyea says:

      She probably made him pay for the Survivor’s Benefit so she’ll get that half of his retirement pay for the rest of her life.

      • luddite4change says:

        The cost of which should be taken into account, but generally isn’t.

      • Just An Old Dog says:

        I may be wrong Jonn but I think that the person named as the survivor can be changed.

        Also I have read that there IS an instance where VA Disabilty is considered fair game for an ex.

        If the retired service member gets under 50% disability and it is the only income/ pension he has and He gets zero for retirement the spouse can get half.
        Perhaps this case has thrown the bullshit flag on that.

        • MSG Eric says:

          From what I read of this case, that bullshit flag was just pulled by the Supreme Court. So yes. Lawyers?

  6. 2banana says:

    World’s shortest fairytale:

    Once upon a time…

    A man asked a woman to marry him.

    The woman said no.

    And the man lived happily ever after.

  7. JimV says:

    Wonder how long he was married to this chick?

    • Just An Old Dog says:

      Since she was getting half of his pension I’d say for his entire military career.

  8. A Proud Infidel®™ says:

    It sounds to me like she is ONE VERY bloodsucking Dependapottamus.

  9. Club Manager says:

    The screwing you get for the screwing you got.

    • MSG Eric says:

      This is why they say, “Sex you pay for is always cheaper than sex you get for free.”

  10. DefendUSA says:

    Funny Story….My BFF got a divorce when she found her military spouse to be a cheater, liar,etc..He was so stupid. She went to JAG and he signed away half of his paycheck, including the little clause that said “upon retirement”, aka the pension she would also collect half. Sadly, she is a bitter person and has not really recovered 17 years later.

    I, on the other hand had a happy 32 years with Martin until he passed away in October. Who woulda thunk it? Not I. One thing I do know? I am always looking up and forward.

    Chip, I hope it works out for you. Just keep taking the higher ground and when your kids are old enough, they will get it. I would almost promise it, but I don’t know your STBex. All the best to you!

    • ChipNASA says:

      Yeah my 8 year old son already “gets it” and has said as much but I just have to hang in there.
      I know that the new unstable narcissistic behavior of the other party will play out.
      It still may cost me some.

  11. Jonp says:

    That man has a stud for a lawyer

    • Green Thumb says:


      And I can only imagine he might be getting a lot of business in the future.

  12. OWB says:

    Have never understood much of the survivor/ex/whatever benefits. Most of it I simply scratch my head.

    Almost got myself in some trouble because a good friend died last fall who was 100% disabled, got all sorts of bennies and his widow now draws a nice sum from the VA. They did not know each other when he earned his benefits. But, he had paid an annuity for her to be able to draw some portion of his bennies, so it is well earned as far as I can see. Except I still don’t quite understand how a non-vet can earn VA bennies (beyond some sort of grievance counseling, maybe) at all. Still, when the vet is given the annuity option and takes advantage of it, it’s not a hand out.

  13. Haikii says:

    I believe, years of disabled veterans visiting representatives in Washington, writing the many national veterans organizations, members of Congress, newspapers, veterans groups, state court judges, and the United States Supreme Court justices all contributed to the Howell outcome. But why Howell, and not Barclay in 2012 with the same argument? Something got through, the question is, what?

  14. Jerry Rose says:

    I have been in the exact same situation for 7 years. How do I get the state ruling in my case reversed based on this supreme court decision? Any thoughts?

    • Karen says:

      You have to go to court again and ask for a modification of the current order based on this new USSC case.

  15. Joevandie Latorre says:

    Does this include a judge using your VA disability as a income to decide how much alimony the spouse will receive? Any help thank you