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Ohio Supreme Court rules on issue of unvested military benefits

We recently wrote about the dual role that many moms across the nation are taking on, that of an active service member and parent. The focus in the prior posts was on child custody issues that are unique to military families. The Ohio Supreme Court recently ruled on another family law issue that directly affects those service members who live in Columbus and may be considering filing for divorce.

In any marriage, the assets that are deemed to be marital property are divided subject to either a predetermined marital agreement or under the laws of the state. Now, the definition of marital property in Ohio will include “unvested military retirement benefits that were earned during a marriage” as was reported by the Akron Legal News.

The judges were divided 4-3 on the issue of whether or not these particular benefits should be considered marital assets. In the case, the interpretation of the statutory language “currently owned” from the applicable property division section of the Ohio Revised Code was in dispute.

The trial court had ruled that military benefits that would not vest until the husband had served for 20 years, a day that would not come until after the divorce was finalized, could not be considered current property. The wife appealed the ruling and it was taken all the way up to the highest court, where the justices disagreed with the magistrate’s ruling.

As noted above, although the court ruled that unvested military benefits would be considered marital property, only those that were earned during the marriage would fall under this category.

This ruling does not mean that a non-military spouse will be automatically entitled to half of those unvested benefits. A factor that complicates the division of this particular asset is that the interest in the pension may not vest at all and even if it did would be considered a deferred distribution made after a divorce has been finalized.

For any property division issue, it is best to speak with an attorney that understands the unique nature of every asset, both in terms of consequence and benefit.

Source: Akron Legal News, “Unvested military pensions now marital property,” Richard Weiner, May 16, 2014

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