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Military Divorce and Combat-Related Service Compensation (CRSC)

Here is a very good article recently published in “Family Matters” by the Indiana State Bar Association.  The case law update explains a recent decision by our Indiana Appellate Court regarding a divorce settlement dispute and the Veteran’s election of CRSC.

BLUF: Indiana may treat a Veterans voluntary CRSC election as a disability payment (similar to a VA disability payment) rendering the CRSC payment not-divisible in a military divorce.

Original Author: Michael R. Kohlhaas

Edwards v. Edwards

Held: Husband did not owe Wife pension benefits that he himself no longer received; payments would no longer be equitable. The husband is still responsible for the arrears payment that he was ordered to pay before his Trial Rule 60(B) Motion was filed.

Failure of the Court to apply the proper law does not render the court without subject matter jurisdiction. A Final Judgment that is not appealed will not be altered.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:

Husband and Wife divorced while the husband was still on active duty. In the final dissolution order, the trial court provided that Wife would receive 50% of Husband’s military pension. Subsequent to the divorce, Husband retired after suffering an injury during deployment. The wife received half of the pension benefits pursuant to the decree for several months until the Husband chose not to receive his pension instead of electing to receive combat-related service compensation (CRSC).

The wife filed a contempt motion requesting the court order Husband to continue to pay her the pension amount as well as the arrears that had accumulated. The husband argued that the Wife should no longer receive the pension amount as he no longer received the pension. The court sided with Wife relying on the decision in Bandini v. Bandini, 935 N.E.2d 253, 264 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). Bandini held that post-decree waiver of pension benefits in favor of disability payments was not allowed as justification to stop payment of benefits. The Court also ordered Husband to pay Wife the arrears that had accumulated.  The husband failed to appeal the December 18, 2015 Order.

The husband filed his Verified Motion to Vacate Judgment Pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B)(6) on May 3, 2018. In his motion, Husband argued that the recent decision in Howell v. Howell, 137 S. Ct. 1400 (2017), rendered the trial court without subject matter jurisdiction over his case. Howell held that a veteran spouse was not required to indemnify non-veteran spouse for the loss of their portion of benefits when such loss was the result of the veteran spouse waiving the right to receive the benefits in order to receive service-related disability benefits. In its Order of 12/15/2018, the court held that Howell was not retroactive and did not render the original Order void and therefore Husband still had to pay the arrears ordered. The court did hold that Howell made future payments inequitable and therefore Husband was no longer responsible for paying Wife for the pension amount. The husband appealed the partial denial of his motion for relief.

The husband argued that the trial court lacked subject jurisdiction. The Court held that the trial court did have jurisdiction over matters stemming from the dissolution. Further, even if incorrect law was applied subject matter jurisdiction was not lost. The husband also made the argument that res judicata did not apply due to the trial court not having subject matter jurisdiction. This argument fails as the Court found that the trial court did have subject matter jurisdiction. Additionally, a final judgment that is not appealed will not be altered, even if it is wrong or relied on precedent later overturned.

The trial court’s order was affirmed.

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