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Oklahoma Legislators Reconsider Military Divorce

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This month, lawmakers in the Sooner State are reviewing Oklahoma divorce law as it pertains to military service members. Under the current divorce law, when a couple is filing for divorce, the civilian spouse is entitled to a portion of the serving spouse’s retirement pay once that person retires.

House Bill 1053 seeks to change that practice. The bill has been passed in both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate, but has stalled in a conference committee, where the two proposals have to be unified into a final bill.

The proposed changes to the law give judges more freedom to considering the length of the marriage and the military person’s rank when they got married as he or she divides military retirement pay, says Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City.

"If you had a brief marriage early on in somebody’s military career, you shouldn’t be entitled to benefits that person gets at the end of their military career," he said.

Military retirement pay is awarded only after 20 or more years in service. It is based on a person’s retiring rank. In another change, after a military divorce, the spouse seeking a portion of their ex-spouse’s military retirement pay would be required to file a legal document declaring their intent to pursue that money.

"That’s something the ex-spouse needs to know when they consider re-enlisting," Banz said. "If they know they’ve got to split their retainer pay, they may decide to do something else."

In her piece on the subject in the Oklahoman, Julie Bisbee reports that many veterans groups take issue with the current division of military retirement pay in divorce cases, calling it unfair. Military retirement pay, or retainer pay, requires the recipient to remain available for service and maintain a specified standard of behavior. HB 1053 proposes treating military pay like alimony, meaning that any payments would automatically end if the other spouse remarried.

After heated responses from constituents, both sides have agreed to give the idea more discussion time. Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said he wants to have experts weigh in on the benefits and drawbacks to the proposed changes, saying "[Revamping the law] certainly grew into a bigger issue than I had anticipated it being."

Rep. Banz says that the proposed changes to the Oklahoma divorce law are in sync with a growing national movement to address similar concerns regarding veteran pay. When the current practice began, most enlisted service members were men, Banz says, and the policy was intended to help wives and children. However, with the growing number of women in the service, the law requires an update.

"We need to give it a fair hearing," he says. "We have no intention of cutting former spouses, but this is not a pension. It does not create an asset, and it’s not something that can be passed on to heirs."

If both sides agree to an interim study, hearings on the issue could resume in the fall.

Source: The Oklahoman


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