You be the divorce judge

A lot of difficult questions can come up in a divorce case. Check out the following situations and see if you can figure out what the court decided. You be the judge! But remember – the actual outcome can vary from state to state, and depends on the exact facts of each case.

  • A wife’s 401(k) plan was worth $164,000 when she filed for divorce. By the time of the divorce trial, however, it was worth $235,000. The husband was awarded half the value of the plan. Should he get half of $164,000, or half of $235,000?

He should get half of $235,000, said the Iowa Court of Appeals.

The wife argued that her husband shouldn’t benefit from her continuing contributions to the account, but the court disagreed, because the couple was still married during that time.

The court also said the husband should share in the full value of the plan even though the wife had taken out a loan from the account.

  • A man lost his job, and went to court to try to reduce his support payments. At the time, he was receiving a monthly pension. Should his pension benefits be taken into account in deciding how much support he can give his ex-wife…even though the ex-wife had earlier been awarded 50 percent of the value of the pension in their divorce?

Yes, said the Vermont Supreme Court. The husband’s continuing pension benefits still counted as “income” for the purpose of spousal support. Further, between his pension and his unemployment benefits, he had sufficient income to continue paying his full obligations, the court decided.

However, the court warned that once his unemployment benefits expired, his obligations might be reduced.

  • A divorce judge ordered a man to take out a $100,000 life insurance policy for the benefit of his ex-wife and child. However, he ignored this order and instead took out a $600,000 policy with his new girlfriend as the sole beneficiary. Some time later, he died. Can the ex-wife collect anything?

Yes, said the Oregon Supreme Court. The ex-wife can force the girlfriend to turn over $100,000 of the proceeds.

The girlfriend argued that she did nothing wrong and the policy that named her as a beneficiary didn’t even exist at the time of the divorce. But the court said this didn’t matter, because the divorce agreement gave the wife the right to collect under “any” policy owned by the husband at the time of his death. Therefore, the girlfriend had to turn over some of the money.

  • In California, a spouse generally doesn’t have a right to property that the other spouse acquires after a separation. In one California case, a lawyer separated from his wife, and two months later, his law firm gave him his share of the firm’s profits from the previous year. Can the wife share in the money?

Yes, said the California Court of Appeal.

The husband claimed that the profits were his sole property because he didn’t have a legal right to them until the law firm had approved his share, which happened after he and his wife separated.

But the court said that his right to receive a cut of the profits was based on his work for the firm during the previous year, before the separation. As a result, the profits were marital property.

  • A woman divorced her second husband and sought child support for their daughter. She also had a son from her deceased first husband, and received Social Security survivor benefits on his behalf. Do these benefits count in determining how much child support she needs?

No, said the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The Social Security benefits are the son’s resource, not the mother’s. The mother was simply receiving them as his representative while he was still too young to manage them on his own. So they don’t affect how much her second husband must pay to support his own daughter.

  • The wife of a retired serviceman was awarded half his military pension payments in their divorce. Later, the man elected to take combat disability pay instead of his pension. What happens to the ex-wife?

She can still collect, said the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The man waived his retirement pay to receive the disability benefits, which violated the terms of the divorce. He must now compensate his ex-wife from other sources in an amount equal to what she would have received in pension benefits.

  • A husband had accumulated $23,200 worth of unused vacation and sick time at work at the time of his divorce. Can his wife share in this?

No, said the Colorado Court of Appeals. The husband can only be paid for the unused time if and when he leaves his job, so the value of the time is uncertain and it could disappear completely if he became seriously ill and had to use up all his time.

  • A soldier who was killed in Iraq had named his mother as the beneficiary under his government life insurance plan. Later, his mother and father divorced. Can the father receive a share of the death benefits?

No, said the Minnesota Supreme Court. Under federal law, federal death benefits belong only to the beneficiary and aren’t subject to any legal proceeding by someone else seeking to claim a portion of them. This includes divorce proceedings.

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