Rose v. Rose

481 U. S. 619

May 18, 1987

Mr. and Mrs. Rose divorced after having two children. Mr. Rose was totally disabled by Vietnam war injuries, and his only income came from government veteran’s benefits. Mrs. Rose got custody of the children, and Mr. Rose was ordered to pay monthly child support. He argued that veteran’s benefits should be immune from court-imposed liabilities such as child support.

The Court ruled 8-1 that child support could be imposed on someone whose only income was veteran’s benefits. Marshall wrote the majority opinion, which rejected many statutory arguments that state-imposed child support was preempted. A provision which allowed the veteran’s affairs administrator to allocate child support money did not matter, since it did not purport to divest state courts of the right to make allocations too. Neither did a provision matter which said that decisions of veteran’s affairs officials were final. In response to a provisions which exempted a beneficiary of veteran’s benefits from any judicial seizure, Marshall wrote that children could be considered beneficiaries within the law’s meaning. A final provision which said that veteran’s benefits could not be used for child support was found inapplicable on the grounds that it only applied when the funds were still possessed by the veteran’s agency, rather than when Mr. Rose had received the funds.

O’Connor, joined by Stevens, concurred in most of the opinion, but felt the majority did not give full value to the importance of the parent-child relationship, and suggested that no law should be interpreted to abrogate a child support obligation. Scalia concurred in judgment. He thought the majority considered the purposes of the various statutory provisions too much, and should have stuck to the plain text, which he agreed did not support Mr. Rose’s case. White dissented, and proffered some interesting evidence that Congress did intend veteran’s benefits to be exempt from even child support obligations. He also thought that some precedents could not be adequately distinguished.

Short of abortion, there is probably no legal right in America which is more evil, more heartbreaking, and more demonic than no-fault divorce. Marriage is the most beautiful of all human relations, and it was majestically designed by God Himself to last for life. In divorce, the resplendent joy of two becoming one is brutally carpet-bombed, and what was never meant to be separated is bitterly ripped apart. One time, I was at a gathering of divorce lawyers. Hor d’oeuvres and wine were served – the contrast between the dignity and elegance of the event and the essential barbarism of their work was grotesque.

I’m not sure which side is right in this case. It’s hard to care much about the post-divorce stuff, because the great tragedy has already happened. I don’t know whether Mr. Rose or Mrs. Rose or both were responsible for the divorce. But my heart breaks for them, and my heart breaks for their children. For it is children who visibly demonstrate why divorce is so barbaric. In a child’s body, two truly have become one in the literal sense, and separation is not possible. Child support money can never replace what is lost forever when a husband and wife end their holy covenant.

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