Veterans may want to understand what could happen to their VA disability benefits if they go through a divorce, including what benefits may be lost, divided, or reduced as part of the process. While every veteran’s situation is different, from the amount of benefits received and eligible income to the makeup of their family, there are a handful of useful guidelines for understanding what divorce can do to VA disability benefits.
Divorces may be handled at the state level, but veterans’ benefits are ruled, and to some extent protected by, federal law, so courts are obligated to follow their lead. It’s important to note that disability benefits are different from military retiree benefits, which are affected in different ways by divorce, though the two topics do intertwine. Read on for a brief summary of divorce’s effects on disability benefits.
Disability Benefits Cannot by Divided as Property
First and foremost, VA disability benefits are not authorized to be treated as an asset or marital property to be divided up in a divorce. This is explicitly forbidden by the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA). The rationale is that disability benefits are meant to compensate for a veteran’s reduced earning potential, and as such count as a form of income instead. This does, however, lead us into the next guideline.
Disability Benefits Count as Income for Alimony and Child Support
VA monthly disability compensation isn’t treated as marital property, but it does count towards a veteran’s income. Due to this, disability compensation will figure into the calculations regarding alimony and child support payments. And considering that monthly disability payments are tax-free benefits, that means the full amount is used in that calculation. So whereas federal law protects veterans’ disability compensation from being divided as property, it does nothing to impede the courts’ freedom to consider disability compensation as part of a veteran’s regular income. The specific method of calculation varies depending on your state; nevertheless, VA disability compensation is never off the table.
Garnishment of VA Disability Benefits
Garnishment refers to the action of seizing funds from an individual to satisfy a debt, often by taking the money immediately through your source of income. In some instances, and mostly because a veteran has failed to pay alimony or child support, money can be garnished from his or her VA disability compensation. Usually, disability pay can only be garnished if the veteran has waived military retired pay, or a portion of their pension, to receive compensation for a disability. Only the percentage of compensation apportioned to disability pay will be considered for garnishment, and the percentage garnished usually ranges between 20-50%.
Garnishment can only happen once the ex-spouse has filed for apportionment, and it may be denied for a number of reasons, such as undue financial hardship on the veteran, or proven infidelity or living as a married partner to another individual.
Assistance with Your Claims and Appeals
Divorce can be a long and difficult process, and having veterans’ retired pay and disability compensation thrown into the mix can add an extra layer of complication. But it doesn’t have to add more to the struggle. If you need guidance and professional support as you navigate divorce and want to see your disability compensation protected, contact us at 844-VET-LAWS.