California court decision on pensions important for divorcing couples

The division of marital property is often a complicated issue that can cause problems in many divorces, especially in California. Because of the state's community property laws, all of the property that is acquired during a marriage needs to be divided equally between the divorcing spouses, with certain exceptions.

These laws have sometimes have led to many disputes over the characterizations of such property. Some spouses have claimed that certain items should be excluded from the property division process, at which point it will be necessary to perform a more extensive investigation to learn more about those particular assets.

The California Supreme Court recently heard a case about a unique property division issue. The couple in this case encountered difficulties when the husband's pension was being examined for division.

The husband had served in the armed forces for four years, which occurred before he was married. He then went to work as a fireman, and his employer took part in California's retirement system for public employees. After working for the fire department for three years, he and his wife were married.

During the marriage, in 2002, the husband had an option to boost the pension benefits that he would be able to receive. These extra benefits were allowed to him as a result of his prior service in the armed forces.

To receive these enhancements, the husband needed to make extra payments into the system. These payments were made out of marital funds, and occurred twice a month for five years, until the couple separated in 2007. This meant that over $11,000 of marital property was used to pay for extra pension benefits.

During the divorce process, the wife contended that since marital funds were used, any enhanced pension benefits should be considered community property.

The Court reasoned that if this was permitted, it would not give consideration to the fact that the military service occurred prior to the marriage. It believed that the extra pension benefits belonged only to the husband, and that the wife should be reimbursed for the contributions that were made during the marriage.

This case may have an impact on future divorce proceedings, especially for couples where one or both spouses are in the military. The time that the service occurred is an especially important factor that needs to be considered during property division.

If you are thinking of filing for divorce, you need to know what to before you begin the process. Speak to an experienced family law attorney about the issues that need to be addressed for your particular situation. An attorney can help you find a resolution that meets your needs.