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Are unvested military retirement benefits subject to division? (1 of 2)

Although military divorce takes place through the same family court process as civilian divorce, there are unique issues that apply. For example, military pensions are an important part of the property division aspect of many military divorce cases and are often a couple’s largest asset.

Typically, vested military retirement assets are considered property that can be divided during divorce. However, the Ohio Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case that asked the state’s highest court to determine if the same was true for military retirement benefits that have not yet vested. 

The case involves a couple who was married in 1995 and had three children before separating and filing for divorce in January 2008. Before the marriage, the husband enlisted in the National Guard and he had served 16 years in the guard by the time the couple’s divorce was finalized in 2011.

Prior to the divorce hearing, the husband committed to the Guard for another six years. Once the husband has been with the Guard for a total of 20 years he becomes entitled to receive retirement benefits. During the divorce, the parties fought over whether the wife was entitled to half of the husband’s military retirement benefits even though they had not yet vested.

The magistrate that presided over the divorce ruled that the wife was not entitled to the benefits because “Ohio law does not permit the court to divide a non-vested pension benefit.”

The wife appealed, arguing that unvested military benefits can be divided under Ohio law. Further, she stated that since the husband was “contractually committed” to remain in the Guard until his benefits vested, she should be entitled to an equitable share of the benefits he accrued during the marriage.

Check back later this week for more on this important military divorce issue.

Source: The Clermont Sun, “Ohio Supreme Court hears case dealing with military retirement benefits,” Paul Pfeifer, Nov. 13, 2014

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