SCOTUS BLOG summarized and commented upon the oral arguments presented Monday, March 20 in Howell v Howell.
Michigan's position thus far on military retirement divisions at the time of divorce is consistent with the arguments of Mrs. Howell's attorneys and also the Amici Department of Justice. When a spouse elects to draw a disability benefit, his or her "military retired pay" is reduced dollar for dollar. However, a trial court may do one of several things to make sure that a military spouse--many of whom have sacrificed career options that would have allowed the spouse to accumulate a retirement, many of whom have contributed in many ways to the career of his or her spouse--obtains indemnification and an equitable distribution of marital assets where the election of disability pay and reduction in former spouse's share occurs after the entry of the Judgment of Divorce.
For most military families, the retirement is the single most valuable asset they own. They may own little more than that. This is a very important issue that will affect spouses and minor children of the family. Where the problem lies is with those Judgments of Divorce that divided the retirement during an earlier divorce and where, after the divorce, the spouse elects disability pay that either reduces significantly or that completely eliminates the property.