Successfully Navigating the Military Maze

Mira* came to the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law at a low point in her life. Unable to work full-time due to a debilitating medical condition, Mira was helping in a convent in exchange for room and board. She was surviving on $1,000 a month in support from her earlier divorce. Little did she anticipate that coming to the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law would open up a new and positive chapter in her life at age 57. With the Center’s lawyers at her side, Mira was able to penetrate complicated military rules and procedures, to receive her fair share of the financial benefits she was due as a former spouse of a service member.

In her divorce, completed 10 years before she came to the Center for legal succor, all of Mira’s rights to marital property to her husband’s military benefits were reserved. Mira did not understand what this meant or what to do to obtain them. During most of her divorce, she lacked a lawyer and was more focused on raising her children alone and receiving treatments for breast cancer. Her ex-husband’s valuable military pension, which he had been receiving for several years before she visited the Center, was not divided, and she was receiving no funds from it. Her ex-husband had conveyed his military pension survivor benefits to his new wife so there was to be, in essence, no life insurance for her if he died before her.

Although Mira’s case appeared formidable due to all the complex rules of the U.S. military pension system, her case was accepted on the basis of financial need and legal merit. Never having handled a case like this, the Center’s lawyers, with help from volunteer lawyer Karen Rosin, burrowed into the intricacies of the laws. Because of the extensive preparation, the Center’s attorneys were able to persuade the ex-husband and his counsel on the eve of trial that they should settle.

In the settlement, Mira secured a lump sum payment from her former husband of $55,000 for past due pension payments he had wrongfully withheld from her. Her monthly income was immediately increased by $600 representing her marital share of the military pension. Her rights to receive his survivor’s benefits were agreed upon and secured from the military.

Grateful to the Center and inspired by the “compassion and kindness” she experienced, Mira made a donation to the Center because she wanted to help others “to find confidence in their future” in addition to her own.



*Name and photo changed to protect client’s privacy.