Tag Archives: spouse’s right to my pension in divorce

Dividing Pension & Retirement Benefits in Ohio Divorce – Part 1

dividing_retirement

In the first installment of what is planned to be a series on dividing retirement / pension benefits during a divorce settlement, we look briefly at the common questions of dividing retirement and pension plans between spouses.  The parties’ retirement benefits is an important consideration when equitably dividing marital property, because, like the marital residence, retirement benefits are often the largest asset or assets of the parties. Therefore, dividing these plans or funds becomes enormously important.  So, let’s now address some common questions.

Is my retirement / pension considered marital property?

As the intro gave away: yes.  Just as with any other asset of value that is acquired during the marriage, generally, retirement benefits accrued during the marriage are considered to be  “marital assets” and must be divided equally between the parties.  If a spouse is working during the marriage and this results in the accrual of retirement benefits, the law sees it as if the non-working spouse contributed equally to the creation of those benefits.

This frequently makes it difficult for a court to carry out its statutory mandate of dividing all marital property equally.  Technically, the non-working spouse is entitled to at least a portion of the employed-spouse’s pension fund (as marital property), but the money may not be easily accessible at the time of divorce.  Because courts like to maximize the value of all retirement and pension funds, it is normally preferable to avoid causing the withdrawal of the accrued monies, and leave the fund growing in the name of the working spouse.   Fees, penalties and taxes can often destroy a pension that is withdrawn when it is not fully matured.  But, the problem is that sometimes there simply isn’t other marital property to award to the other (non-earning) spouse at the time of the divorce that will adequately compensate that spouse for his or her rightful portion of a retirement fund.  For this reason, valuing and dividing retirement benefits should be one of the first issues contemplated by a divorcing party.

Is it true that my spouse is entitled to half of my pension?

No. Not always.  Only the portion of the retirement fund that was contributed to or earned during the marriage is considered “marital property” and subject to division between the parties.  The portion of the retirement fund that was earned by the working spouse while unmarried is considered that party’s separate property and the other spouse has no interest in that money. Therefore, the first step is to determine what portion of the retirement fund is marital and what portion is separate property.

How do you value the portion of the retirement fund that is considered “marital”?

In determining the portion of a pension or retirement plan that is considered a “marital asset” and subject to division between the parties, the court should calculate the ratio of the number of years the employed-spouse worked during the marriage to the total number of years he or she worked at the qualifying employment to earn the pension.  Only the portion of the pension that was earned during the marriage is a marital asset, and the spouse of the employee is only entitled to a proportionate share of the marital asset.

Example – Employed spouse works 25 years to earn a vested pension of $100,000.  10 of these years were worked during the marriage. This equates to a 40% ratio, and only $40,000 of the pension is a martial asset. Because the division of marital property always begins with an equal division, the non-employed spouse would typically be entitled to $20,000 in this scenario.

Now, assuming the court doesn’t want to destroy the fund if it would be better for the employed spouse to contribute for 30 years, you see where it could be difficult to off-set this amount with other marital property? How many couples have $20,000 (in liquid form, moreover) lying around to award the other spouse his or her fair share of this fund at the point of divorce?

Are Social Security Benefits Divided?

No.  Not directly, anyway. Social security retirement benefits are not considered marital assets to be divided when a couple divorces.  A court cannot distribute a portion of one spouse’s SS benefits to the other spouse directly.  However, the court does consider the SS benefits when making an equitable division of retirement benefits overall – See Smith v. Smith (1993, Franklin Co) 632 N.E.2d 555 (“while not divisible as a marital asset, SS benefits must be considered when equitably dividing pension benefits”).

Are State and federal retirement plans treated differently?

Yes. The law related to state and federal retirement plans will be the subject of a later post.  There are specific rules that govern certain public-forms of pensions, such as military pensions, State pension plans (e.g., PERS) and deferred compensation plans.  Those forms of retirement benefits are impacted by specific federal and state statutes that must be consulted where applicable.

Brought to you by the Miami Valley Ohio law offices of Morrison & Nicholson.  Call today to schedule a consultation (937) 432 – 9775.

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What are Legally Sufficient grounds for Divorce in Ohio?

ohio_divorce_reasonsDivorce is purely a matter of statute and each of the acceptable grounds for divorce in Ohio are fixed by statute. This means that you and your spouse cannot simply list whatever reasons you personally have for wanting the divorce in your Pro Se complaint and have the Court accept them. Rather, your complaint for divorce must list one or more legally sufficient grounds, enumerated under the applicable statute, and put on evidence of that ground at the hearing.

So, what are legally sufficient grounds in Ohio? Generally, any of the following will suffice:

1. Either party entering into a bigamous marriage

2. Willful absence of the adverse party for one year

3. Adultery (obviously!)

4. Extreme cruelty (carefully defined under statute)

5. Fraudulent contract (marriage is a contract, after all)

6. Any gross neglect of marital duty

7. Habitual drunkenness

8. Imprisonment of the adverse party in a state or federal prison when the petition is filed with the Court

9. Procurement of a divorce outside Ohio, by a husband or wife, by virtue of which the party who procured it is released from the obligations of the marriage, while such obligations remain binding upon the other party

10. On the application of either party, when husband and wife have, without interruption for one year, lived separate and apart without cohabitation

So there you go, now you know that “he is a jerk” will not suffice as legally sufficient grounds to state in your complaint. You must plead and prove one of statutorily enumerated grounds established by the Ohio Legislature to obtain a divorce.

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Easiest way to terminate the marriage when one spouse no longer lives in Ohio | Dissolution vs. Divorce

divorce_movingThe Courts of Ohio have jurisdiction to terminate the marriage of any Ohio resident that has lived in the state for at least six months.  This is the case even if the marriage took place in another state.   The termination can be by way of Divorce, Dissolution or annulment (in rare circumstances).  Often, couples that have separated and are living apart want to terminate the marriage and have already come to an agreement on all relevant issues (property division, child custody, spousal support, etc).  In other words, the parties agree to go their separate ways and really do not want (or have anything) to fight over.

Frequently, when the parties agree on all material issues, the best mechanism for terminating the marriage is a dissolution.  When parties petition the Court for a dissolution, they submit a separation agreement to the Court along with the petition.  Both parties later appear in court for a brief hearing where they affirm their desire to dissolve the marriage and to declare their agreement on all material issues, as is evidence by the signed separation agreement.  This seems easy enough, right?  Well, maybe not.

A dissolution will not work when one of the parties to the marriage is unable to appear in Court here in Ohio.   At the heart of the dissolution is the idea of agreement by the parties, and if one of the parties does not appear in court to formally declare their agreement, the Court cannot terminate the marriage. In this scenario, the parties should look into an “uncontested divorce.”

Generally speaking, an uncontested divorce is where one party files a complaint for divorce and the other spouse fails to file any responsive pleading or otherwise appear and defend the action.  The Court can terminate the marriage by simply having the plaintiff-spouse testify (along with one other witness to corroborate the testimony) and the defendant-spouse need not appear at all.  Although this seems rather intuitive, the real benefit of an uncontested divorce is that the parties can still enter into a separation agreement, just as in a dissolution, and submit it to the court for incorporation into the final divorce decree.

So, whenever two spouses reside far apart, they should consider an uncontested divorce action to save the absent spouse travel expenses.  But, remember that this will only work when both spouses are in agreement on the division of property, child custody, spousal support, etc.

Brought to you by the Ohio law offices of Morrison & Nicholson.  Call today for a free consultation (937) 432 – 9775.

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Bankruptcy & Divorce, which first?

Bankruptcy and Divorce

Lets take the following hypothetical situation:

Ryan and Lauren are married but soon to be divorced.  Ryan is planning on moving from the marital residence in Miamisburg, Ohio, to Tennessee with his new girlfriend Jennifer.  Lauren has already moved to Kettering, Ohio.  Can they file a joint bankruptcy together in Dayton?  Would it be better to wait and file their bankruptcy after the divorce is final?

Divorces breed bankruptcies.  During the marriage there was one household with one set of expenses.  Once one spouse moves out, there become two households and two sets of expenses, and divorce litigation can be very costly.  Filing bankruptcy is often the only solution for people getting divorced.  But how does separation and divorce affect a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy?

Ryan and Lauren can file a joint petition at any time during their marriage, even if they are maintaining separate residences.  Filing joint bankruptcy is cheaper because saves the additional filing fee.  However, most bankruptcy attorneys will not advise filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy in anticipation of a divorce.  Chapter 13 bankruptcies require that the debtors make monthly payments for 36 or 60 months.  This is impractical to do if the individuals involved will no longer be married.

The timing of the two separate cases in Ohio is also important.  Filing either a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy will stall any existing divorce proceedings.  The bankruptcy court issues what is called an Automatic Stay at the beginning of the bankruptcy that prohibits anyone from taking action on any debts.  Therefore, the divorce court cannot divide the debts of the spouses until the divorce case is final or a Relief From Stay is obtained from the bankruptcy court.  It is often considered preferable to file the joint Chapter 7 bankruptcy a couple of weeks before filing the divorce case, as the Chapter 7 bankruptcy does not generally take as long as a contested divorce.

A skilled bankruptcy attorney will be able to answer all of your questions about filing bankruptcy in the context of a divorce or separation.  Many Dayton-Springfield area attorneys offer free bankruptcy consultation.

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