Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
THE DISTRICT COURT OF WILLIAMSON COUNTY, 425TH JUDICIAL
DISTRICT NO. 2014-0804-F425, HONORABLE BETSY F. LAMBETH,
Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Smith
Melissa Goodwin, Justice
appeal concerns the interpretation of a divorce decree
providing Claire L. Allen with one-third of "an amount
equal to [Lawrence Allen's] U.S. Army Retirement
Pay" as spousal maintenance. At issue is whether Claire
is entitled to spousal maintenance based on Lawrence's
retirement pay amount when Lawrence has waived the retirement
pay to receive disability benefits. After a bench trial, the
trial court rendered final judgment in Claire's favor. We
agree and affirm.
relevant facts are undisputed and taken from the evidence
admitted at trial. In 1982, Lawrence retired from the United
States Army and started receiving military retirement
benefits. In 1984, Lawrence and Claire were divorced by
Decree of Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce Decree) in the
superior court of Whatcom County, Washington (Washington
Court). At issue in this appeal is the following Divorce
By way of child support and spousal maintenance Lawrence H.
Allen shall pay through the registry of the Superior Court
for Whatcom County for the benefit of Claire L. Allen on the
first day of each calendar month an amount equal to his U.S.
Army retirement pay (presently $1, 240 per month, subject to
periodic cost of living increases). Of such amount one-third
of the total payment shall be deemed spousal maintenance and
such payment shall continue so long as both parties survive;
two-thirds of such monthly payment shall be deemed child
support for the parties['] three minor children.
September 2013, Lawrence paid Claire spousal maintenance by
way of garnishment through the Defense Finance and Accounting
Service (DFAS), which administers military retirement pay.
However, in 2013, Lawrence waived his retirement payment to
receive Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) and
Veterans Affairs disability (collectively, Disability
Benefits), see 10 U.S.C. § 1413a(b); 38 U.S.C.
§§ 5304(a)(1), 5305, and then stopped paying
spousal maintenance. Nevertheless, Lawrence continued
receiving monthly Retiree Account Statements and CRSC pay
statements from the DFAS that showed the amount of retirement
pay Lawrence was waiving.
filed a petition to enforce the Divorce Decree under the
Uniform Enforcement of Foreign Judgments Act. See
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 35.001-.008.
Following proceedings on competing summary judgment motions
and an appeal to this Court,  the trial court conducted a bench
trial on December 12, 2017, at which both parties testified.
After the trial, the court rendered final judgment in
Claire's favor, awarded Claire attorney's fees, and
entered findings of fact and conclusions of law. As relevant
here, the court found and concluded that:
• "The clear and unambiguous terms of the Divorce
Decree require Lawrence to make a monthly payment of spousal
maintenance to Claire in an amount equal to one-third of his
Army Retirement Pay plus cost-of-living adjustments";
• Lawrence's monthly payment to Claire under the
Divorce Decree is spousal maintenance and "Claire was
not awarded any portion of Lawrence's military retirement
• federal law distinguishes between property and spousal
• although federal law prohibits states from treating
retired pay as community property, it does not prohibit
taking account of amounts waived for disability in
calculating spousal support;
• Lawrence's monthly pay statements "show the
amount of retired pay awarded to Lawrence each month and the
amount waived for V.A. Disability each month";
• Claire received partial spousal maintenance payments
from September 2013 through March 2014 totaling $226.22 and
no spousal payments since March 2014;
• "Lawrence owes Claire a total spousal support
arrearage as of December 12, 2017 of $41, 575.18, which
should be awarded as a judgment against Lawrence ...