Another pro bono project by Law Offices of Carson J. Tucker has contributed to a victory in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
After serving over 10 years in the United States Navy and suffering injuries during his service resulting in a 70 percent disability rating, Retired Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Mark Mattson’s wife filed for divorce. He reluctantly entered into a stipulated divorce decree in which he agreed to divide his retirement and disability pay with his former spouse. After being unable to pay the oppressive obligation, Chief Mattson’s ex-wife filed a motion to enforce the judgment. The trial court entered an order awarding the ex-wife arrearages and attorney fees. Chief Mattson appealed the decision in the Minnesota Court of Appeals claiming that federal law forbade division of military disability pay as marital property consequent to divorce.
Realizing the significance of this case as it pertains to this important issue, Operation Firing for Effect (OFFE) and Forgotten Warriors Project, Inc. teamed up and submitted an amicus curiae brief prepared and filed by Carson J. Tucker supporting reversal of the trial court’s decision.
On October 2, 2017, the Minnesota Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the case: Berberich v. Mattson, Minnesota Court of Appeals Case No. A16-1535. The Court held, consistent with the arguments presented in the amicus curiae brief submitted by OFFE and Forgotten Warriors Project, that federal law preempted all state law concerning disposition of military retirement pay and disability pay. The only exception pertinent to the case was the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA), 10 U.S.C. 1408, which allows partition of only a portion of disposable retired pay, while making all other military pay off limits to state courts when partitioning marital property in divorce proceedings.
This important decision comes on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Howell v. Howell, which also followed arguments presented in “friend of the court” brief filed by Mr. Tucker in that case on behalf of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and OFFE.
The significance of the Howell decision continues to reverberate as state courts across the country are faced with having to overrule nearly 30 years of bad precedent which had allowed former spouses (and their lawyers) to profit off of federal monies constitutionally purposed for supporting disabled veterans after they have sacrificed their best years and health in the service of our country. While these current victories after a long-fought battle are encouraging, they do nothing to bring back the lives of so many veterans destroyed by state bureaucracies functionally designed to seek out every potential support dollar available to pay off court-ordered legal fees and awards to former spouses, rather than provide the disabled veterans with what was often their only form of sustenance. The fight continues.
Mr. Tucker operates an international law practice and risk consulting service with locations in the United Kingdom, France, and the United States. He has developed a particular expertise in prosecuting and defending appeals in state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court and has had several significant successes in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals. In addition to his work on appeals, Mr. Tucker has written amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs in the United States Supreme Court and state and federal courts on behalf of various governmental and non-governmental entities, not-for-profit corporations, and individuals. A significant portion of his practice involves providing pro bono (free or substantially reduced) legal services to individuals and organizations where focus and efforts can be directed on changing the law for a wide swath of interested parties and stakeholders. In addition to being licensed to practice in Michigan, Mr. Tucker is admitted to practice in the Eastern and Western District Federal Courts in Michigan, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court.