Anthony C.Starks - Attorney At Law
Certified Family Law Specialist

California court rules on pension issue in divorce case

Most couples that decide to get married know that at some point, they will face challenges in their marriage. While many will be able to address the issues that are causing the problems, some may decide that they should no longer be together.

When the couple decides to move forward with a divorce, the process can prove to be very emotional for both parties. These emotions may make it impossible to find an agreement on certain issues, requiring the court to become involved. Recently, the California Supreme Court made a ruling that could impact certain individuals going through a divorce.

The case concerns an individual who served in the armed forces prior to getting married. Once out of the service, the man started working as a firefighter in California. The department that he worked for belonged to the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS).

CalPERS allowed the individual an opportunity to purchase additional pension credits due to his military service. The man did not decide to pursue this offer until after he was married. He had to pay around $180 each month in order to obtain these extra benefits, and this was paid using funds that would be considered community assets.

When the husband and wife divorced, the wife believed that the extra pension benefits would all be considered marital property, since the extra payments were made with assets that were acquired during the marriage.

However, the trial court ruled that since the military service happened prior to the marriage, the extra pension would belong to the husband alone. The wife was only allowed to receive half of the money that was paid to boost the benefits.

The Court of Appeals had overturned that ruling, instead saying that the enhanced pension would all be considered marital property. The California Supreme Court agreed with the trial court's earlier ruling, and held that the property belonged solely to the husband.

Couples that have significant retirement assets could be impacted by this ruling. It may be necessary to carefully review each account to determine which assets in the accounts would be considered when dividing the property.

If you are considering filing for divorce, it is important to speak to an experienced family law attorney about any concerns that you may have about the process. This can be an extremely difficult time for your family, and you may feel pressure to put the matter behind you.

These agreements need to be taken seriously, because they will require a major change in circumstances before the court will make any changes. You need to protect the rights that you have at this time. An attorney can explain the options that you, and help you make the decisions that will allow you to find a solution that best fits your needs.

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