When Peter and Claudia Barclay divorced in 2010, Claudia was awarded spousal support by an Oregon District Court in the amount of $1000 per month.  Peter contests this award, because the court included his VA disability compensation as income in calculating the spousal support amount.  Veteran’s disability compensation, according to Peter, should be excluded from such calculations, because it is intended to compensate the veteran and not third parties, such as his ex-spouse.

Peter Barclay’s argument hinges on a reading of Title 38 of the US Code, Section 5301(a)(1), which reads: “Payments of [veteran’s] benefits due or to become due under any law administered by the Secretary shall not be assignable except to the extent specifically authorized by law, and such payments made to, or on account of, a beneficiary shall be exempt from taxation, shall be exempt from the claim of creditors, and shall not be liable to attachment, levy, or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process whatever, either before or after receipt by the beneficiary.”  Peter argues that this section excludes veteran’s benefits from spousal support calculations.

Peter made his argument in front of three Oregon Courts, including the Oregon Supreme Court, but he lost at each level.  Now he hopes to have a chance to make his argument again before the US Supreme Court, and the Court will decide in September whether to grant him that chance.

The Supreme Court previously heard a similar argument in Rose v. Rose decided in 1987, where a defendant charged with contempt for failure to pay child support argued that the court lacked the jurisdiction to award child support from his veteran’s disability compensation.  In that case the Court rejected the argument, holding that it is clear from legislative history that veteran’s benefits “are intended to provide reasonable and adequate compensation for disabled veterans and their families.”    Rose v. Rose, 481 U.S. 619 (internal quotations and citations omitted).  The court will not be bound by Rose if it decides to hear Peter Barclay’s case, however.  A lot of time has passed since 1987; the applicable laws have been amended in the interim; and this case has to do with spousal support, not child support.

It is not clear whether the court will hear Barclay’s case, or if it does whether it will rule in favor of Peter Barclay.  What is clear, however, is that if it does the effects of the case will spread far beyond Oregon’s borders.  Many states, including Virginia, include veteran’s benefits in both spousal support and child support calculations.  Peter’s success would require these states to revisit their spousal support laws, and probably open the door to more court cases in the future.