Equitable Distribution of Retirement Assets

The immortal George Carlin once said, “That’s the whole meaning of life, trying to find a place for your stuff. That’s all your house is, just a place for your stuff while you go out and get more stuff.”

In the context of Family Law, the topic of personal property is rarely discussed and consistently dismissed by the court and counsel. It is clear that both view personal property as being simply stuff. In fact, it has been assigned multiple euphemisms to it in order to deflate its relative importance. We have all heard the dismissive terms: chachka; accoutrement; trinket; fixture; knick knack; and of course, whatnot- a word specifically designed to describe all the things the item is actually not. In addition, there is often such contempt for personal property that we have created an amalgamation, personalty, simply in hopes of accelerating the process of distributing it by reducing the length of the term, itself.

Continue Reading Personal Property: From Picayune to Precious, Distributing the Immaterial Possession

This blog post is written with input from Eliana T. Baer, who, along with Robert A. Epstein, was instrumental to the outcome of the below case. I thank them both for their extensive time and efforts, without which this result would not have been possible.

An important reported decision was decided by the Appellate Division concerning the distribution of post marital contribution of pensions and retirement plans. A copy of the case can be found here. While the case itself concerned a former service member’s military retirement pay, the matter has wide implications for all retirement plans which are not distributed at the time of divorce. This was a case which I had alluded to in a previous blog which can be found here, and in which we represented Thomas Barr, who had earned credits toward a military retirement during his marriage. In the case of Barr v. Barr, the parties were divorced after the husband, Thomas, had served eleven years of active duty in the Air Force. Thomas was not represented by counsel at the time of the divorce and his wife’s attorney prepared a property settlement agreement which provided that "The Wife will receive 50% of Husband’s pension benefits attributable to his 11 years in the military service only. Such benefits are to be distributed when Husband commences receiving same." After the parties divorce, Thomas went on to enroll in the reserves and during that time, accumulated enough time to entitle him to military retirement pay.

When Thomas began receiving his retired pay, he calculated what he believed he owed his former wife, Judith, and made a deduction for taxes that he had to pay. This went on for a period of time, and the parties had a disagreement and Thomas ceased paying. When Judith made an application for enforcement, Thomas realized that the amount that he had been paying was what he believed to be the incorrect amount, and in his response to her motion, asked that the amount be adjusted. Specifically, he argued, in part, that because the formula used to calculate retired pay benefits considers a military member’s rank pay at retirement as well years of service, it was possible to calculate the amount that was attributable to his rank at the time of the parties’ divorce, which would give meaning to the agreement of the parties that Judith would only be entitled to the portion attributable to his active duty. A service member receives points for each day of military service: one point for each day of active military service and two points for each day of reservist duty. Additional points accrue based on the completion of certain training, drills and funeral honors duty. The actual member’s benefit is the product of the base pay for the rank achieved at retirement and two-and one-half percent of the points representing the years of service credited.

Continue Reading The Treatment of Military Pensions in New Jersey: The Appellate Division Speaks, Is the Coverture Fraction Still Viable?