Chaidez v. Grant, No. 1 CA-CV 21-0037 FC, 2022 WL 456557 (Ariz. App. Feb. 15, 2022).
Facts and Procedural History
Kentrez Grant (Husband) and Judith Chaidez (Wife) were divorced in 2010 in Yuma County. The divorce decree awarded Wife a percentage of Husband’s future military retirement benefits, and the court retained jurisdiction over the matter to calculate the amount of future payments and resolve related disputes.
In 2019, Wife filed a petition to enforce the division of Husband’s retirement pay. At the time, Husband was receiving gross monthly payments of $2,336 per month. A portion of the payments was based on Husband’s disability.
In the 2019 enforcement action, the court calculated Wife’s percentage based on Husband’s gross monthly payment amount. The court also ordered Husband to continue making payments to Wife’s estate if she predeceased him. Husband appealed the ruling.
Federal law imposes precise limitations on the division of military retirement benefits earned during the marriage. Here, the court erred in the following ways:
- The court improperly calculated Wife’s benefit percentage based on Husband’s gross monthly payment. It should have been based on Husband’s “disposable retired pay,” which is a term of art defined by federal law. It excludes disability benefits and certain other amounts calculated based on the servicemember’s disability rating.
- The court should not have ordered Husband to continue making payments after Wife’s death. Under federal law, a former spouse’s portion of military retired pay is not transferrable, “including by inheritance.” Therefore, all benefits terminate if Wife predeceases Husband.
The court of appeals vacated the order dividing Husband’s retired pay and remanded the case to the trial court for further hearings.
This case highlights the complexity of military retirement benefits and the need for parties to consult an expert before dividing the benefits—preferably before the decree is entered.