Mansell v. Mansell

PETITIONER: Gerald E. Mansell
RESPONDENT: Gaye M. Mansell
LOCATION: Fifth District Court of Appeals

DOCKET NO.: 87-201
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 490 US 581 (1989)
ARGUED: Jan 10, 1989
DECIDED: May 30, 1989

Douglas B. Cone - on behalf of the Appellant
Dennis A. Cornell - on behalf of the Appellee

Facts of the case

Major Gerald E. Mansell and Gaye M. Mansell were married for 23 years until their marriage ended in 1979. Major Mansell received both Air Force retirement pay and, pursuant to a portion of that pay, disability benefits. Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, military retirement payments were considered community property that were to be divided evenly between the spouses based on the extent of military service performed during the marriage. Major Mansell asked the California Superior Court to modify the divorce decree by removing the provision asking him to share his retirement pay. That court denied the request without opinion. Major Mansell appealed and the California Court of Appeal affirmed the lower court’s decision. The California Supreme Court denied the petition for review and Major Mansell appealed.


Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, can state courts treat military retirement pay that was waived by the retiree in order to receive veterans’ disability benefits as something divisible upon divorce?

Media for Mansell v. Mansell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 10, 1989 in Mansell v. Mansell

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 87-201, Gerald E. Mansell v. Gaye Mansell Forbes.

Mr. Cone, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Douglas B. Cone:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The question is whether California may divide Major Mansell's VA disability benefits as community property just because he is... was a military retiree as opposed to civil service or some other kind of retiree.

And the question arises because of the unique way the Federal government treats military and other uniformed service retirees concerning the VA disability benefits.

The military, and other uniformed members, are required to waive a portion of their longevity retirement in order to receive VA disability.

In effect, the military retiree is required to purchase his own VA benefits with part of his longevity pay.

No other class of federal employees is required to make that selection.

So we're dealing with a problem that's unique to the military services here.

Concerning the facts of the case, the parties were married in 1954, and Major Mansell was commissioned two years later in '56.

They had six children and he retired in 1976.

At the time of retirement, he applied for a VA disability rating, and he received that.

In 1977, the parties separated and the children remained with Major Mansell but no child support order was made from the mother.

Spousal support was ordered and the amount was equal to half the VA and half the retirement amount.

Two years later a judgment of dissolution was entered.

Once again Major Mansell received custody of the... then one remaining minor child.

But once again, the mother was not required to pay any child support.

The husband agreed to divide the retirement and VA disability, in essence continuing the same level of spousal support, this time in the form of a property division.

The court retained jurisdiction over distribution of those retirement benefits and the VA benefits.

After this Court issued the McCarty decision, Major Mansell went back to court with a motion to modify the judgment, to delete the paragraph that referred to division of VA disability and longevity retirement.

That motion was denied.

The decision was affirmed in the court of appeal.

The state supreme court refused to hear the case, and this Court noted probable jurisdiction.

The basic heart of the problem in this case is the way California treats military retirement.

They can--

Antonin Scalia:

Before you even get into that, the, the... the appellee has raised an argument in, in reply to the government's second brief.

If I understand it correctly it's that this is res judicata, and that we really don't have to get into what, what the law meant after McCarty or after the statute in response to McCarty was enacted, that the California courts have passed on it before McCarty was decided, and the, the matter's closed.

Is, is this the first time that argument's been raised?

It wasn't in the principal brief--

Douglas B. Cone:

--Well, no it's not.