Sometimes Rhode Island divorce lawyers aren't able to provide "definite" answers to legal questions, including pension issues.
This is one of those frequent instances.
The answer is, "It all depends."
If either party in a Rhode Island divorce has a pension then there are various issues you will want to consider. Specifically, the divorce issue we want to address here is that of "vesting."
You can find out if your pension is vested for the purposes of your Rhode Island divorce by contacting the administrator of your pension fund and simply asking if your pension if your pension is vested or not. You also may want to asked your pension administrator when your pension will vest (become vested) just in case the date might occur during the course of your Rhode Island Divorce proceeding.
The Rhode Island family court judge only has the power to order the equitable distribution of marital assets, including pensions.
If you or your spouse has a pension that is not vested, what part of the pension, if any, is subject to the Rhode Island family court's power of equitable distribution?
If you or your spouse has a pension that is vested, what part of the pension, if any, is subject to the Rhode Island family court's power of equitable distribution?
The only part of a vested or unvested pension that is subject to equitable distribution/division by the Rhode Island Family Court Judge is the "marital portion" of the pension.
The marital portion of any pension is dependent upon various circumstances, including (1) the length of the marriage, (2) the type of pension (civilian or military) and the laws governing it, and (3) whether the pension is vested or not.
While it may be the Rhode Island family court judge's role to determine after trial what the marital portion of the pension may be, it is the job of each spouse and his or her divorce lawyer to present to the court what part of the pension is the marital portion. Sometimes your divorce lawyer may be able to argue that a larger portion of the pension is actually the "marital portion" if it is to your benefit to do so. However, if there is disagreement between spouses and/or their divorce lawyers regarding the true manner in which the marital portion should be calculated, proof may be presented at trial.
Proof of the marital portion of the pension that is subject to distribution by the Rhode Island family court may require expert testimony by way of an actuary who substantiates the basis for claim and the amount of it. Without this information, your Rhode Island divorce judge may not have sufficient information for determining the basis, amount or validity of your claim on that pension.
The issue of whether a pension is vested or not is of substantial benefit to both spouses, the court and an actuarial expert if one is necessary.
If the pension has not vested at the time of the entry of the Final Judgment of divorce, then the pension payments themselves are not subject to distribution in the future. Since the pension is not vested then the body (corpus) of the pension is only made up of the contributions made to the pension. There is no entitlement to the benefits of the pension after it vests simply because a spouse may have an entitlement to a portion of the monetary contributions to the pension.
If the pension is vested prior to the entry of the Rhode Island Family Court's Final Judgment of Divorce, then the benefits of the pension itself provided by the "vesting" of the pension during the marriage are subject to distribution of the Rhode Island family court.
Thus, the family court's distribution power in Rhode island in a divorce proceeding is limited to either (1) the financial contributions made to the pension when it has not vested prior to the entry of Final Judgment of Divorce, or (2) the benefits provided by the pension when it has vested prior to the entry of Final Judgment.
Christopher A. Pearsall
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West Warwick, RI 02893
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