Retired U.S. Navy flight engineer Frank Kurland is trying to get state courts to change how military retirement pay is viewed in divorce proceedings. The 47-year-old Midwest City man and several retired service members are meeting with veterans groups across Oklahoma to discuss House Bill 1053. Oklahoma is home to 338,000 retired service members, according to Veterans Affairs Department figures. There are 21,000 active-duty members in the state, Defense Department figures show. If this bill becomes law, Oklahoma will be the first state to require the courts to view military retirement pay differently. When Kurland ended his 17-year marriage after retiring from the military, he was surprised to learn his ex-wife was entitled to a percentage of his military retirement pay, even if she remarried.Comments
‘Serious change’Under HB 1053, the payments would be viewed as alimony, not property, and alimony ends when the recipient remarries. The bill, filed by Rep. Gary Banz, R-Midwest City, passed the House and was approved by the Senate Judiciary committee last week. "There is support to move this bill through the process,” said Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, who carried the measure in the Senate. "But it’s a serious change and it needs to be looked at very carefully.” Last session, Banz was successful in getting through language that would require judges in divorce proceedings to consider how long a spouse was married to a retired military member and what the service member’s pay grade was at the time of the marriage before awarding a percentage of retirement pay. That change was signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry and takes effect July 1. Before this provision was put into place, a spouse that had been married to an enlisted person for a short time early in a service member’s career would be entitled to a portion of the retirement pay.
Different status seenThe bill’s opponents say it makes major changes to state divorce laws and gives special preference to veterans. They also say the plan could add to Oklahoma’s high divorce rate. Sen. Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee, a family law attorney, voted against the legislation when it was heard in committee. "This is a huge change in Oklahoma laws,” Laster said. "This would give military members a distinct different status in divorce law. I’m not sure that’s good for public policy.” Supporters of the change argue that military retirement pay comes with requirements and stipulations that a traditional pension doesn’t carry. "We’re just trying to even the playing field,” Kurland said. "We don’t want to go after the former spouses, but we want to give the Oklahoma courts something to consider and at least look at.”