Enforcing a Foreign Claim to Your Former Spouse’s Military Pension in the US – Don’t Give Up –
Under German law, as well as the family laws of many other countries, you may have a claim to a portion of your former spouse’s U.S. military pension as part of a divorce decree providing for property division or support. If you have a foreign divorce order however, you have probably received a denial from the Department of Defense Accounting and Finance Office (DFAS), rejecting your application for enforcement of the foreign order. The Former Spouse Protection Act (FSPA) clearly states that only an American court of proper jurisdiction may issue a recognizable order distributing a servicemember’s pension to a non-servicemember former spouse. The FSPA also precludes direct payment from DFAS to a non-servicemember spouse in any case where the parties were married less than ten years of the servicemember’s active military service. DFAS may also have refused to make payment of your foreign support order for spousal or child support for the same reasons. Claimants in foreign countries often simply give up attempts to enforce their claims in light of these legal obstacles.
Urban Thier specializes in the enforcement of foreign orders, and can assist you in both the initial foreign divorce proceedings to ensure proper wording is included in the divorce decree to allow enforcement in the U.S., and also, in obtaining the appropriate U.S. orders to secure recognition and enforcement of your claims by DFAS as well as against other civilian based pension plan holders.
In one recent case, a client married to a U.S. servicemember, obtained a divorce in Germany. Under German law, the German court awarded the non-military spouse a portion of the husband’s military pension as well as spousal support pending her former spouse’s retirement, as so called “Versorgungsausgleich”. Shortly thereafter, the former husband moved back to the United States. Understanding she had a valid order granting her a legitimate claim to her former spouse’s military pension, the client agreed to give up other elements of security for her support and property distribution, and took no further action prior to the former spouse leaving Germany.
Upon her former spouse’s return to the U.S. and his retirement, the client then submitted her order and application to DFAS for enforcement of her claims to her former spouse’s military pension. She immediately received a return letter informing her DFAS could not legally enforce the foreign order. Receiving the same information, and thus believing himself immune from enforcement, the former husband declined numerous demands that he voluntarily comply with his obligations, and kept her portion of the pension for several years, amounting to almost a six figure Dollar amount. To make matters worse, while married almost 20 years, less than ten of those years were during the husband’s active military service.
This situation caused extreme hardship to the impecunious spouse, who had no other source of income or the ability to obtain counsel in the United States. Fortunately, recent laws allowed for us to successfully prosecute this woman’s case on a contingency fee basis, without having to charge her an hourly rate or a large retainer up front. We were able to successfully domesticate her foreign order in the U.S., and obtain enforcement of both the arrearages accumulated, as well as the ongoing obligation, payable directly from DFAS.
We welcome you to make inquiry to our firm to evaluate your case, both during the foreign divorce proceedings and after, to see if we may help you.