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Mansell v. Mansell

United States Supreme Court
490 U.S. 581 (1989)


Retired members of the armed forces can be eligible for a pension. In addition, members of the armed forces who are disabled as a result of their service can be entitled to disability benefits in relation to the extent of the disability. However, a retiree cannot receive both in full. A retiree can receive disability benefits only to the extent the retiree waives an equivalent amount of retirement benefits. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act permitted state courts to treat “disposable retired or retainer pay” as community property. The act excluded from this definition retirement pay waived for purposes of receiving disability pay. Major Gerald Mansell (the husband) (plaintiff), a retired member of the Air Force, and Gaye Mansell (the wife) (defendant) were divorced. The husband received military retirement benefits, and, offset by a waiver of a portion of his retirement pay, military disability benefits. The divorce decree ordered the husband to pay the wife 50 percent of his total retirement pay, including that portion the husband waived in order to receive disability pay. The husband petitioned the superior court to modify the decree to eliminate the requirement that he split his total retirement pay, including that portion waived, with the wife. The superior court denied the petition. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting the husband’s act-based argument. The Supreme Court of California denied review. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, J.)

Dissent (O’Connor, J.)

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