Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Family Law
Rhone v. McDonough
Rhone served in the military 1950-1953 and 1959-1988. In 1986, Rhone and JoAnne, divorced; the Florida Divorce Decree stated that JoAnne would receive 40% of Rhone’s military retirement benefits. In 1988, Rhone left military service due to disability. To receive disability compensation, Rhone waived part of his military retirement pay (38 U.S.C. 5305). The state court denied Rhone’s motion to modify the Divorce Decree, stating that the payment of retirement benefits constituted alimony, not a property division. The state court issued a Continuing Writ of Garnishment directing the VA to withhold that payment from Rhone’s retirement pay. The VA determined that the order obliged the VA to make payments from Rhone’s disability compensation. After Rhone attempted to avoid garnishment by renouncing benefits, in 2002 the VA determined that Rhone's compensation benefits were not subject to garnishment and had been erroneously withheld. Rhone was reimbursed for $27,664. In 2005, the VA determined that it must comply with the alimony award and resumed garnishing Rhone’s disability compensation.The Board of Veterans’ Appeals issued a 2020 decision, finding the 1991 order “valid on its face” and providing for “permanent periodic alimony” so that the VA legally garnished Rhone’s disability compensation under 42 U.S.C. 659(a); (h)(1)(A)(ii)(V). The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed, finding no due process violation. The statutes authorize the VA to withhold a portion of a veteran’s VA disability payment for alimony or child support pursuant to legal process when a veteran has waived a portion of military retirement pay to receive VA benefits. The VA lacks jurisdiction to decide questions associated with a state garnishment order. View "Rhone v. McDonough" on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law, Military Law, Public Benefits
Haynes v. McDonald
Mr. and Ms. Haynes divorced in 1995. Mr. Haynes died in 2000. Ms. Haynes sought Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits under 38 U.S.C. 1310, as a “surviving spouse.” Because Ms. Haynes was not married to Mr. Haynes at the time of his death, the VA Regional Office denied the claim. Ms. Haynes later requested that the Regional Office reopen her claim on the presentation of new documentation showing a decision by the Army Board of Correction of Military Records to award Ms. Haynes an annuity as a “former spouse” under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act , 10 U.S.C. 1447(10), which permits former spouses to receive annuities. The Regional Office denied the request. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals agreed, while acknowledging Ms. Haynes’ argument that because the basis for her divorce was physical abuse, she should not be required to demonstrate marriage at the time of Mr. Haynes’ death in order to receive DIC benefits. The Veterans Court and Federal Circuit affirmed. Although Mr. Haynes’ abusive actions were documented, the statute requires validly married spouses at the time of the veteran’s death. View "Haynes v. McDonald" on Justia Law
Posted in: Family Law, Military Law, Public Benefits
King v. Office of Pers. Mgmt.
Former U.S. Forest Service employee King had long-term relationships with two women, both of whom claimed federal survivor benefits upon his death. Kathryn believed she had married King in a civil ceremony in 2002. Diana, who had been legally married to and divorced from King twice, but had continued to live with him until 2002, maintained that she was the common law wife of King at the time he married Kathryn. Before his death, Diana had initiated proceedings in Montana to dissolve their common law marriage. The women subsequently entered settlement agreements and engaged in state court litigation. Kathryn received benefits from May 27, 2004 until February 2007. Diana subsequently received the survivor benefits. Kathryn transferred to Diana the funds that she received ($41,939.13), as she believed was required by a Montana court decree. Kathryn challenged the OPM’s effort to recover the improper payments, having transferred the money to Diana, but the government affirmed its decision and determined that collection of the $41,939.13 would not cause Kathryn financial hardship. The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed, holding that Kathryn did not meet the definition of “widow” under the Civil Service Retirement Act, 5 U.S.C. 8341(A)(1), and had not proved that she was entitled to waiver for the overpayment. The Federal Circuit reversed. The Board failed to credit substantial evidence demonstrating that Kathryn detrimentally relied on the overpayment of survivor annuity funds. View "King v. Office of Pers. Mgmt." on Justia Law
Burden v. Shinseki
Louis Burden, a Vietnam veteran, served on active duty in the Army from 1948 until 1968. He married Michele in a ceremonial marriage in April, 2004. Two months later, Burden died. In August 2004, Michele applied for dependency and indemnity compensation. A VA regional office denied her claim because she had not been married to Burden for at least one year prior to his death, 38 U.S.C. 1102(a). Michele asserted that she and Burden had been living in a common law marriage for five years prior to his death. The board acknowledged that she had provided some evidence to support her claim, but concluded that it did not constitute the “clear and convincing proof” required to establish a valid common law marriage under Alabama law. The Veterans Court and the Federal Circuit upheld the denial. State law, including state law evidentiary burdens, applies in determining the validity of a purported common law marriage View "Burden v. Shinseki" on Justia Law
Dachniwskyj v.Office of Pers. Mgmt.
Theresa was married to Myron when he retired from the federal government in 1989. Myron elected to receive a reduced annuity and named Theresa to receive a survivor annuity. In 1998, they divorced. Myron married Roksoliana. Myron received annual notices from the Office of Personnel Management explaining that if he wanted to provide survivor benefits to a spouse that he married after retirement, he had to send a signed request within two years after the date of marriage. In 2002 Myron sent a letter requesting survivor annuity benefits for Roksoliana. OPM denied Myron’s request as not submitted within two years of his marriage and instructed Myron to send his divorce decree to change or eliminate the survivor election previously made. In 2006 Myron sent the divorce decree and the certificate documenting his marriage to Roksoliana. OPM sent notification that his election to transfer full survivor benefits to his new spouse was effective immediately. Myron died in 2009. OPM granted Roksoliana benefits and denied Theresa’s application. An ALJ reversed; the Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed. The Federal Circuit reversed, finding OPM’s annual notice insufficient to inform Myron of his rights and obligations and that the Board’s award to Theresa was not supported by substantial evidence. View "Dachniwskyj v.Office of Pers. Mgmt." on Justia Law