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In re Marriage of Edwards

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 31, 2019

In Re the Marriage of: Travis Edwards, Appellant-Respondent,
Valerie Edwards, Appellee-Petitioner.

          Appeal from the Hamilton Superior Court The Honorable Michael A. Casati, Judge The Honorable Todd L. Ruetz, Magistrate Trial Court Cause No. 29D01-0901-DR-42

          Attorney for Appellant Cynthia A. Marcus Carmel, Indiana

          RILEY, JUDGE.


         [¶1] Appellant-Respondent, Travis Edwards (Edwards), appeals the trial court's partial denial of his motion for relief from judgment.

         [¶2] We affirm.


         [¶3] Edwards presents us with three issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as: Whether the trial court abused its discretion when it partially denied his Trial Rule 60(B) motion for relief from judgment.


         [¶4] During the marriage of Edwards to Valerie Edwards (Valerie), Edwards was in active duty in the United States Army. Edwards' last deployment was to Iraq. Edwards was injured in combat during that deployment and was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury.

         [¶5] On February 23, 2010, the marriage of Edwards and Valerie was dissolved pursuant to an agreement that provided that Valerie would "be entitled to 50% of the monthly pension benefit accrued during the course of the marriage to and including the date of the final dissolution to be received by [Edwards] from the U.S. Military . . . ." (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 35). At the time the dissolution was entered, Edwards was still on active duty. On October 7, 2011, Edwards retired from the military, having completed almost twenty-three years of service. During the months of May 2012 through August 2012, Valerie received 50% of Edwards' military pension benefit, as provided for by the dissolution decree. Thereafter, Edwards elected to receive combat-related service compensation (CRSC). As a result of that election, Edwards was required to waive his right to his military pension benefit. In September 2012, Valerie, who was unaware that Edwards had elected to receive CRSC, received notice from the entity administering Edwards' pension that she would no longer receive 50% of Edwards' pension benefit because he had discontinued receiving it. After electing to receive CRSC, Edwards did not make any payments to Valerie to replace the 50% of his pension benefit she had lost as a result of that election.

         [¶6] On November 12, 2014, Valerie filed a contempt motion seeking an order directing Edwards to pay her the pension benefit arrears that had accumulated and to continue to pay her 50% of the pension benefit, as provided in the dissolution decree. On September 29, 2015, the trial court held a hearing on Valerie's contempt motion. Edwards' counsel argued that Edwards had been required to waive his military pension benefit as a result of his election to receive CRSC and that CRSC was non-divisible income pursuant to federal law. Edwards' counsel also directed the trial court to Mansell v. Mansell, 490 U.S. 581, 109 S.Ct. 2023, 104 L.Ed.2d 675 (1989), which he contended stood for the proposition that the trial court could not order Edwards to indemnify Valerie for her loss of the 50% pension benefit amount. On December 18, 2015, the trial court found Edwards in contempt and ordered him to pay Valerie the amount she lost as a result of his election to receive CRSC. The trial court relied on this court's decision in Bandini v. Bandini, 935 N.E.2d 253, 264 (Ind.Ct.App. 2010), which it cited as holding that "[a] military spouse may not, by a post-decree waiver of retirement pay in favor of disability benefits of CRSC, unilaterally and voluntarily reduce the benefits awarded the former spouse in a dissolution decree." (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 38). The trial court also ordered Edwards to pay $47, 263.75[1] in accumulated arrears.

         [¶7] Edwards did not appeal the trial court's December 18, 2015 Order (the 2015 Order). On May 3, 2018, Edwards filed his Verified Motion to Vacate Judgment Pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B)(6) in which he argued that in Howell v. Howell, 581 U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 1400, 197 E.Ed.2d 781 (2017), the United States Supreme Court had held that state courts were not permitted to order a veteran to indemnify a divorced spouse for the loss of the spouse's portion of the veteran's retirement pay caused by the veteran's waiver of retirement pay to receive service-related disability benefits. Pursuant to Howell, Edwards contended that the trial court's 2015 Order was void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         [¶8] On December 5, 2018, the trial court held a hearing on Edwards' motion, and, on January 23, 2019, the trial court issued an order partially denying Edwards relief. The trial court found that Edwards had not appealed the 2015 Order; the 2015 Order was, thus, binding on the parties; and the Howell decision, while overruling Bandini, did not render the 2015 Order void because it did not indicate that its application was to be retroactive. Nevertheless, in light of Howell and treating Edwards' motion as one made pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B)(7), the trial court held that it was no longer equitable for the 2015 Order to have prospective effect. The trial court denied Edwards' ...

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