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Critics of ex-spouse protection act feuding

Sep. 13, 2009 - 05:00PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 13, 2009 - 05:00PM  |  
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Like a bickering couple headed for divorce, war has broken out among organizations that want Congress to amend the 1981 law that allows a court to divide military retired pay between a husband and wife.

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Like a bickering couple headed for divorce, war has broken out among organizations that want Congress to amend the 1981 law that allows a court to divide military retired pay between a husband and wife.

The ongoing fight involves attempts to change the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, a law that allows state courts to award a portion of military retired pay to a nonmilitary spouse as part of a property settlement after divorce.

Over the 2 decades the law has been in effect, service members and retirees have lobbied Congress to repeal or significantly gut the retirement-splitting provisions, while ex-spouses have pushed equally hard to keep the property settlement rules.

A new effort is under way after Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., tentatively agreed to introduce a bill that would make changes in the law requested by military retirees and divorced service members. A six-term lawmaker who never served in the military, but whose congressional district includes Offutt Air Force Base, Terry agreed to introduce a bill if he can find a Democrat to be a co-sponsor.

The long-smoldering feud among military associations revolves around what an updated law should include.

On one side is a Texas-based organization, the USFSPA Liberation Support Group, that wants a major change that would cancel retired pay to the ex-spouse who remarries, an issue that has long been a sore point for divorced military retirees.

On the other side is the Military Coalition, a group of more than 30 military-related associations, which believes including a remarriage provision would doom the legislation because it would be a too-radical change in the original law that essentially treats retired pay as marital property.

Terry's office has announced no decision on whether to include a remarriage termination provision for retirement-pay splitting in his bill, but aides confirmed that meetings are planned on Former Spouse Protection Act legislation.

In an Aug. 29 statement about the possible legislation, ULSG leader Trish Pownall said Terry may not "grasp the fact that ex-spouses are being paid for life regardless of the circumstances."

"Many ex-spouses make more money than we veterans do, [and] many others have remarried into a higher standard of living than we were ever able to provide for them," she said.

Steve Strobridge, government relations director of the Military Officers Association of America, one of the coalition members, said MOAA is just trying to be realistic about what might pass.

"Some who have come more recently to the battle insist that the only solution is repeal or near-repeal of the USFSPA law. ... MOAA believes that no retired member is helped by holding out for a position that has no chance of success."

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