I have often spoken and written about the vital importance of military spouses and their divorce lawyers ensuring that divorce judgments dividing military retired pay are properly and completely executed. The recent Wisconsin Court of Appeals case of Schwab v. Schwab 20 Ct App 40 is yet another example of the serious consequences when this is not done.
A couple divorced in 1992, and the non-military wife was awarded a portion of the servicemember husband’s military retired pay. Unfortunately, the wife’s lawyer never completed the qualified domestic relations order to actually divide the account. The husband did not retire until 25 years after the divorce. He then argued that the wife could not access her portion of his retired pay because Wisconsin imposes a 20-year limitation on collection of judgments. The wife filed a motion to hold the husband in contempt of court. The judge initially ruled in favor of the wife and awarded her portion of the retired pay.
However, the husband appealed and the Court of Appeals overruled the trial court’s order. The Court ruled that Wisconsin’s 20-year judgment limitation did apply. The qualified domestic relations order would have protected the wife’s benefits. However, it was never completed, and therefore the wife could not pursue her judgment. As a result, the wife received nothing.
This case shows the importance of completing the documents dividing military retired pay. Certainly, the wife was counting on her portion of the husband’s pay for her retirement. It is surely a rude surprise that she will not receive it, and has no way to recreate that benefit. Don’t let this happen to you–if you are a military spouse going through a divorce, contact me to ensure you receive your proper benefits.
Attorney David Kowalski routinely handles military divorces for both servicemembers and their spouses. Contact him at 608-405-6663 with any questions.