Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pension benefits and marital property

Pension benefits and marital property
DeLuca v DeLuca, 97 N.Y.2d 139

Retirement benefits frequently are an important factor in a divorce. In the DeLuca case the Court of Appeals ruled that retirement benefits from the New York City Police Superior Officers Variable Supplements Fund [VSF] are marital property subject to equitable distribution in a divorce proceeding.

New York City Detective Crescenzo DeLuca divorced his wife, Maria, after 30 years of marriage. Before the divorce became final, DeLuca retired and began receiving VSF benefits in addition to his regular pension benefits.

A New York Supreme Court justice subsequently granted Crescenzo the divorce. As part of the equitable distribution of Crescenzo's assets, the court awarded Marie half of his past and future VSF payments. The Appellate Division, however, modified the award (276 AD2 143), holding that VSF benefits were not marital property on the theory that VSF benefits were not pension benefits under the City's Administrative Code Section 13-279[b].

The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the VSF was subject to equitable distribution in a divorce proceeding. The court said the VSF, along with its counterpart for police officers below the rank of sergeant ... were the result of contract negotiations between the City of New York and the unions representing police officers. In 1968, both sides jointly proposed legislation allowing the Police Pension Fund, whose pension investments were limited to fixed-income obligations, to invest some of its assets in equities, such as common stock, with the hope of creating higher earnings. The additional earnings could then be used as extra post-retirement compensation to attract qualified individuals and induce long-term service.

The Court of Appeals decided that whether VSF benefits constitute marital property cannot be determined by the Administrative Code provisions relied on by the Appellate Division but rather are to be determined pursuant to the relevant provisions of the Domestic Relations Law.

The general rule in such cases is that if the benefit is something of value and was earned in whole or in part during the marriage, it may be considered marital property subject to equitable distribution. Referring to Majauskas v Majauskas, 61 NY2d 481, the court pointed out that “rights in a vested but non-matured pension were marital property.”

Thus, said the court, formalized concepts such as “vesting” and “maturity” are not determinative in such situations, noting that in Olivo v Olivo, 82 NY2d 202, it ruled that compensation received after dissolution of the marriage for services rendered during the marriage is marital property.

In the words of the court, “VSF benefits are a supplement to pension fund payments and, as such, a form of compensation for past services related to the first 20 years of police employment, notwithstanding the date they mature.”

Also noted was the fact that although issues such as “vesting” and “maturity” do not raise serious obstacles to the determination that VSF benefits are marital property, they do affect valuation and distribution. 

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The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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