Foster v. Foster (Opinion - Leave Granted)Annotate this Case
Deborah Foster sought to enforce a consent judgment of divorce (the consent judgment) between herself and ex-husband Ray Foster. The consent judgment provided that Ray would pay Deborah 50% of his military disposable retired pay accrued during the marriage or, if he waived a portion of his military retirement benefits in order to receive military disability benefits, he would continue to pay Deborah an amount equal to what she would have received had Ray not elected to receive such supplemental disability benefits. Because Ray was injured during combat, he was eligible for combat-related special compensation (CRSC), and Ray applied for CRSC around the time of his retirement. Deborah filed for divorce in November 2007, and the consent judgment was entered in December 2008. Deborah was receiving slightly more than $800 per month under the consent judgment until February 2010. When Ray began receiving CRSC, his disposable retirement benefit amount had been reduced, and Deborah's monthly payment was reduced to a little more than $200 per month. Ray failed to pay Deborah the difference between the reduced amount of retirement pay she was receiving and the amount that she had received shortly after entry of the consent judgment. Ray was ultimately held in contempt of court; he appealed to the Court of Appeals, arguing that the trial court erred by not finding Deborah's attempts to enforce the consent judgment preempted by federal law. The Court of Appeals concluded there was no preemption and affirmed the trial court’s contempt order. Defendant sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Appeals' judgment and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of Howell v. Howell, 137 S Ct 1400 (2017). On remand, the Court of Appeals again affirmed the trial court’s finding of contempt, concluding that Howell did not overrule the Court of Appeals’ decision in Megee v. Carmine, 290 Mich App 551 (2010). Ray appealed again. The Supreme Court found federal law indeed preempted state law, such that the consent judgment was unenforceable to the extent it required Ray to reimburse Deborah for the reduction in the amount payable to her due to his election to receive CRSC. "Although the Court of Appeals indicated its agreement with plaintiff’s assertion that defendant was engaging in an improper collateral attack against the consent judgment, the panel did not discuss the effect of federal preemption on the trial court’s subject-matter jurisdiction or defendant’s ability to challenge the terms of the consent judgment outside of direct appeal." The matter was remanded for the Court of Appeals to address the effect of the Supreme Court's holding on Ray's ability to challenge the terms of the consent judgment.