From time to time, we will use the OK Policy blog to post submissions we receive from Oklahomans who have interesting perspectives on important policy issues for the state. This submission is from Karin Brandenburg, an Oklahoman who works in the homeland security field and counts seven Oklahoma military families in her family lineage, and Wanda deBruler, an Oklahoman who monitors legislation that affects policy on families. The opinions stated below are not necessarily the opinions of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from a variety of different points of view.
A bill that could have a huge impact on 400,000 military families in Oklahoma fell short of passage during the last legislative session but is still under consideration. Anyone concerned with the welfare of Oklahoma families should be paying this issue close attention.
Oklahoma HB 1053 is a bill that proposes to change how military pension is regarded in divorce from “property” to “alimony”. Currently, military retirement like all other occupations is considered “property” and divided accordingly. Once property is divided, each recipient can do with it as he or she wishes. The bill changes military pension to be more like “alimony” which terminates upon the former spouse cohabitating with a member of the opposite sex or remarriage. Additionally, the changes in HB 1053 changes are retroactive to 1981.
HB 1053 is viewed by national-level military family laws experts as a classic special interest bill seeking to use the power of the state to favor one class of persons (military service members and retirees) over another class of person (military spouses). The bill carves out military spouses in Oklahoma to be stripped of equitable pension division rights should a divorce occur. This is a move that no other state in the nation has taken.
HB 1053 was introduced in the 2009 Oklahoma Legislative Session by Representative Gary Banz and Senator Patrick Anderson. The bill died in conference committee at the very end of session. An Interim Study on the subject was held September 10, 2009. Click here for the Oklahoman article.
Speaking for the bill were three retired military men who were divorced and their former spouses remarried. Opposing the bill was Glenda Collins, a divorced former career military spouse, and Professor Robert Spector who has taught family law 30 years and teaches courses on Family Law, Children and the Law at the University of Oklahoma. Professor Spector referenced in his testimony that the Oklahoma Bar Association (OBA) Family Law Section has reviewed the bill and does NOT support the bill. He stated this was “bad family law policy” because it attempts to convert “property” to “alimony” and no other pension is treated as alimony. Furthermore, Professor Spector stated that the draft bill has constitutional issues because of the retroactive clause affecting divorce decrees that allocated military pension awards as “property” to spouses.
“In addition to Professor Spector, three other nationally renowned lawyers have reviewed the bill and provided written detailed analysis which clearly sets out that the bill is conspicuously discriminatory against military spouses, depriving them of now common family law rights afforded currently to all other occupational spouses in the state. Click here to read their comments and here for comments from the Pension Rights Center and the National Women’s Law Center.”
So what does this mean to you? Oklahoma’s divorce rate, poverty rate, and the state budget for allocation of funds for social services can be expected to increase while service members, sometimes Oklahomans and sometimes not, will enjoy preferential treatment in Oklahoma at the expense of all Oklahoma taxpayers. If the children of the marriage are in the care of the impoverished former military spouse, the number of Oklahoma’s children living in poverty can be expected to increase. Military spouses, on the other hand, will want to avoid a divorce action in Oklahoma, perhaps prolonging, until a transfer of military assignment out of Oklahoma, their stay in those marriages where domestic violence is occurring. Because Oklahoma would be the only state in the country offering preferential treatment to service members, it can be expected that non-Oklahoma service members seeking a strategic advantage in family law will look to Oklahoma for “spousal dumping”.
What can you do? Get educated. Take Action: Tell Others and Contact Your Legislator.