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Military Forum: Ex-Spouse Law Still Draws Steady Flow of Comments
Ex-Spouse Law Still Draws Steady Flow of Comments

 

About the Author

Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families. Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.

Tomís freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.



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Readers of Tom Philpott's "Military Update" column sound off

September 23, 2005


Congress really should revise the Uniformed Services' Former Spouse Protection Act. I have seen buddies resign their commissions to prevent ex-spouses from getting half of their retirement. This hurts the Army. We lose great soldiers, both officers and senior NCOs.

WILLIE K. COPELAND, SR
Via e-mail

I have never liked this law. I retired in 1986. We were divorced in Georgia, and the judge garnished my retirement pay. Since then I have paid my ex-wife $1,000 per month. If I had to pay her for 10 years after the divorce I would not feel the way I do. But I am still paying after almost 20 years, and will continue to do so until I die or she dies.

Is this right?

I served my country for over 27 years, was ordered to go places where I could not take my family. Sure they suffered but so did I. I was in Vietnam, was shot at and faced a few other dangers.

Did she get shot at?

Because some officers messed around on their wives, the USFSPA was passed, entitling ex-wives to half of retirement pay.

I did not mess around on my wife but my assignments created friction and thus we divorced. I should not have to pay the rest of my life.

This law stinks and the government knows it stinks but few in Congress have served in the military and don't care.

RICHARD ELDER, JR.
Via e-mail

The USFSPA overall is a balanced approach for equitable distribution of a military pension, which might be the largest asset of a marriage.

While many spouses work, the person who moves with a military spouse loses many opportunities, including seniority and promotions, by forced changing of jobs. Meanwhile the service member continues to accrue time in grade and promotions. A divorce court is in the best position to examine economic facts of the case.

A change in the USFSPA would simply increase the number of military members who will have to pay alimony immediately after the divorce.

There are no easy answers but most service members and former spouses feel the law is fair. We should not throw out the baby with the bath water.

J. TUTHILL
Captain, JAG Corps, USNR-Ret.
St. Petersburg, Fla.

I'm in the Air Force and so is my husband. We have both served honorably for 20 years and feel our retirement, when is happens, should be just that, OURS.

We have been married for two years, and his ex-spouse is awarded one half of his retirement pay. This is an injustice not only to the military member but to his new family as well. First, the law needs to consider the member's job status at time of divorce. His ex-wife worked for an airline the entire time they were married, so why should she be awarded any benefits from his retirement if she will have her own? There will be no children in the ex-spouses household.

I hope Congress reexamines and changes this law because it puts undo strain on military members and their current families.

Deborah D.
Technical Sergeant, USAF
Via e-mail

The problem with divorce law is elimination of fault.  Many states or jurisdictions use the "no fault" cop-out that they are "concerned with the well-being of the children."  That is absurd.

If you place children with a parent who demonstrated a lack of morality, loyalty, honor, dignity or any other worthwhile human virtue, you do a devastating disservice. When courts do this, children see the incompetence and inaction. They also see that the parent who maintained his or her moral compass humiliated and treated unjustly.

We have to re-establish fault so those deserving of support get it.

Should a husband who commits adultery have to give the ex-spouse a large portion of his retirement? Hell yes.

When roles are reversed and she is disloyal and dishonorable, should she benefit from fruits of her husband's labor? Hell no.

Are there extenuating circumstances that make it necessary to treat these issues case-by-case? Yes.

Is giving custody to the one who commits immoral acts just? No, but it happens every day. 

We have to go back to establishing fault or we will never be able to use the word "fair" again.

JOSEPH T. (Tim) RAMSEY
Major, U.S. Army
Kuwait

Every time I read complaints about having to share military retirement, I wonder how much was left out of the story?

My wife of 49 years has gone through every one of the hardships I have during our 17 years together of Army life. She handled double duty when I was gone overseas.  She had three children to raise alone for over three of those 17 years and did so without a whimper.

If I was to be divorced from her, God forbid, I'm more than willing to give her half of my retirement for being such a super lady, wife and mother.

One of the grateful soldiers,

RALPH DODDS
Via e-mail

Key to the mess Congress cooked up is the term "property." As long as the retiree lives, retirement is property. The second the retiree trips to other side of life, that "property" reverts to retirement "pay" and the ex-spouse gets no further payments.

Congress could declare military retirement truly property. It won't, however, because property could be willed from one family member to another, forever.

A term Congress and ex-spouses have forgotten is "spousal support." But spousal support ends upon remarriage of the ex-spouse.

So, the real issue is not making sure ex-spouses never fall into poverty. The real issue is how to get a piece of retirement you never had to earn -- by taking an oath, serving 20 years, risking life to defend the nation and being subject to military law or recall.

The USFSPA only will be changed or repealed when Congress feels it is politically expedient to do so. I believe it never will. Lawmakers won't admit to wrongdoing; women groups are too greedy.

ROBERT WILLIAMSON
Via e-mail

Letters may be edited for clarity or length. Write to Military Forum, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, send e-mail to militaryforum@aol.com or visit www.militaryupdate.com


© 2005 Tom Philpott. All rights reserved.

 



 



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