In re the Marriage of: Diana Lynn Berberich f/k/a Diane Lynn Mattson, petitioner, Respondent,
Mark Steven Mattson, Appellant.
County District Court File No. 02-FA-14-2007
Jennifer R. Wellner, Wellner & Isaacson, PLLP, Circle
Pines, Minnesota (for respondent)
Francis Herbert White III, Francis White Law, P.L.L.C.,
Woodbury, Minnesota (for appellant)
Margaret Erickson, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal
Services, Worthington, Minnesota; and Michael D. Dittberner,
Linder, Dittberner & Bryant, Ltd., Edina, Minnesota; and
Mary Catherine Lauhead, Law Offices of Mary Catherine
Lauhead, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Johanna Clyborne, Brekke,
Clyborne & Ribich, L.L.C., Shakopee, Minnesota (for
amicus curiae Family Law and Military and Veterans Affairs
Sections of the Minnesota State Bar Association)
M. Honsa, Honsa & Associates, P.A., Minneapolis,
Minnesota; and David L. Olson, Edina, Minnesota (for amicus
curiae The Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of
Benjamin Lee Krause, Krause Law, PLLC, Woodbury, Minnesota;
and Carson J. Tucker (pro hac vice), Law Offices of Carson J.
Tucker, Ann Arbor, Michigan (for amicus curiae Operation
Firing for Effect and Forgotten Warriors Project, Inc.)
Considered and decided by Jesson, Presiding Judge; Rodenberg,
Judge; and Bratvold, Judge.
law preempts state courts from dividing a veteran's
military disability compensation as marital property and
renders such property divisions unenforceable, even if agreed
upon, overruling parts of Gatfield v. Gatfield, 682
N.W.2d 632 (Minn.App. 2004), review denied (Minn.
Sept. 29, 2004).
Mattson asserts that federal law renders unenforceable the
district court's judgment directing him to pay Diana
Berberich 40% of his military disability compensation. In
light of the recent United States Supreme Court decision,
Howell v. Howell, 137 S.Ct. 1400 (2017), we agree.
Federal law preempts state courts from dividing a
veteran's military disability compensation as marital
property, even where, as here, the parties agreed to the
division. As a result, we reverse and remand for entry of
judgment reflecting the unenforceability of Mattson's
obligation to pay military disability compensation to
Berberich. In addition, because further findings are required
on the issue of attorney fees, and because the
appropriateness of any conduct-based attorney fees should be
reconsidered in light of this opinion, we remand for further
reconsideration of and findings on attorney fees.
Mark Steven Mattson enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1984 and,
while serving, married respondent Diana Lynn Berberich in
November 1992 in Virginia. Mattson retired from the military
in 2004 and was granted a 70% disability rating for injuries
suffered during active duty service.
and Berberich separated in June 2014, and the following
October, she filed for divorce in Minnesota. The parties
finalized their divorce in February 2015 via a stipulated
decree approved by the district court. At that time, they had
two adult children. Berberich had been a homemaker and care
provider for the parties' children during the majority of
the marriage. At the time of the divorce, Berberich was
employed part-time. Mattson was receiving military retired
pay as well as military disability
to the decree, the parties agreed that Berberich was in need
of temporary and permanent spousal maintenance, but they
agreed to reserve the issue of spousal maintenance based upon
Berberich's receipt of a share of Mattson's
disability compensation. Under the stipulated decree,
Berberich was to receive 40% of Mattson's "gross
monthly military retirement pay, " as well as 40% of
"the gross amount of" Mattson's military
disability compensation. The decree also divided personal
property, debts, various financial accounts, real property,
and other assets.
the divorce, Mattson made only sporadic payments on his
obligations under the decree, resulting in substantial
arrearages. In January 2016, Berberich attempted to enforce
the terms of the decree. She sought the military retired pay
and disability compensation owed under the decree, as well as
other relief. Mattson opposed most of Berberich's
25, 2016, the district court filed an order directing Mattson
to immediately pay to Berberich the military retired pay and
disability compensation due and owing pursuant to the decree.
The district court also granted other relief, including
attorney fees. Mattson appeals.
the district court err by enforcing a stipulated decree
dividing as marital property Mattson's military
Mattson's challenges concerning health care coverage and
the release of ...