Gay and lesbian couples are often concerned that there “non-traditional family” will be a disadvantage in custody decisions. While technically this issue is never to be determinative of custody disputes, lest the Court violate the Equal Protection Clause, many gay and lesbian couples feel that their sexual orientation played a role in the ultimate disposition of the Court. Putting aside potential biases of certain judges, there is at least one case that seems to lend credence to those concerns. In 2008, the Second Appellant District in Clark County decided a case by the name of Pace v. Pace in which the Court specifically stated that a homosexual relationship of a mother caused adverse affects to the minor children and warranted a change of custody from that mother to the father. The facts of that case can be summarized as follows:
Four years after the mother was designated the residential parent of both children, the father filed a motion to modify the allocation of parental rights and responsibilities. The common pleas trial Court granted the father’s motion and awarded him custody. The appellate court held that the common pleas court did not err in finding that a change of circumstances occurred as there was evidence that, as a collateral result of the mother’s relationship with her same-sex partner, both children had experienced personality disorders, and therefore, modification of custody was in the children’s best interest. The court determined that the adverse collateral effects of the mother’s relationship with her partner and the partner’s role in the children’s lives showed little room for improvement in the future.
While the Court was careful to say that it was not basing its decision on the simple fact that the mother was a lesbian, but rather the collateral affects that her relationship had on the children, it should give pause to the gay and lesbian couples fighting for custody. This is something to keep an eye on in the future as more and more gay and lesbian couples fight for custody of one of the partner’s minor children. For more information on this and other issued, talk with John Nicholson, an attorney specializing in, and fighting for, gay and lesbian rights.
In the first installment of what is planned to be a series on dividing retirement / pension benefits during a divorce property settlement, we look briefly at the basics of dividing retirement and pension plans between spouses. The parties’ respective retirement benefits is an important consideration when equitably dividing marital property, because, like the marital residence, they it is often the largest marital asset the parties own.
This frequently makes it extremely difficult to offset the amount of money that one spouse stands to receive from his or her respective retirement fund (earned during the marriage) by awarding other marital property to the other spouse. Because courts like to maximize the value of all retirement and pension funds, it is normally preferable to avoid causing the withdrawal of the accrued monies, and leave the fund growing in the name of the working spouse. But, the problem is that sometimes there simply isn’t other marital property to award to the other (non-earning) spouse to compensate that spouse for the portion of the fund that is his or hers . For this reason, valuing and dividing retirement benefits should be one of the first issues contemplated. Now, on to some of the basics:
Is my retirement / pension considered marital property?
Yes. Just as with any other thing of value that is acquired during the marriage, generally retirement benefits accrued during the mariage are considered to be “marital assets” and subject to dividing between the parties. If a spouse is working during the marriage and this results in the accrual of retrirement benefits, the law sees it as if the non-working spouse contributed equally to the creation of those benefits.
Is it true that my spouse is entitled to half of my pension?
No. Not always. Only the portion of the retirement fund that was contributed to or earned during the marriage is considered “marital property” and subject to division between the parties. The portion of the retirement fund that was earned by the working spouse while unmarried is considered that parties’ separate property and the other spouse has no interest in that money. Therefore the first step is to determine what portion of the retirement fund is marital and what portion is separate property.
How do you value the portion of the retirement fund that is considered “marital”?
In determining the portion of a pension or retirement plan that is considered a “marital asset” and subject to division between the parties, the court should calculate the ratio of the number of years the employed-spouse worked during the marriage to the total number of years he or she worked at the qualifying employment to earn the pension. Only the portion of the pension that was earned during the marriage is a marital asset, and the spouse of the employee is only entitled to a proportionate share of the marital asset.
Example – Employed spouse works 25 years to earn a vested pension of $100,000. 10 of these years were worked during the marriage. This equates to a 40% ratio, and only $40,000 of the pension is a martial asset. Because the division of marital property always begins with an equal division, the non-employed spouse would typically be entitled to $20,000 in this scenario.
Are Social Security Benefits Divided?
No. Not directly, anyway. Social security retirement benefits are not considered to be a marital asset that is to be divided when a couple divorces. A court cannot distribute a portion of one spouse’s SS benefits to the other spouse directly. However, the court does consider the SS benefits when making an equitable division of retirement benefits overall – See Smith v. Smith (1993, Franklin Co) 632 N.E.2d 555 (“while not divisible as a marital asset, SS benefits must be considered when equitably dividing pension benefits”).
Are State and federal retirement plans treated differently?
Yes. The law specifically related to state and federal retirement funds will be the subject of a later post. There are specific rules that govern certain public-forms of pensions, such as military pensions and State pension plans and deferred compensation plans. Those forms of retirement benefits are also impacted by specific federal and state statutes that must be consulted.
Divorce is purely a matter of statute and each of the acceptable grounds for divorce in Ohio are fixed by statute. This means that you and your spouse cannot simply list whatever reasons you personally have for wanting the divorce in your Pro Se complaint and have the Court accept them. Rather, your complaint for divorce must list one or more legally sufficient grounds, enumerated under the applicable statute, and put on evidence of that ground at the hearing.
So, what are legally sufficient grounds in Ohio? Generally, any of the following will suffice:
1. Either party entering into a bigamous marriage
2. Willful absence of the adverse party for one year
3. Adultery (obviously!)
4. Extreme cruelty (carefully defined under statute)
5. Fraudulent contract (marriage is a contract, after all)
6. Any gross neglect of marital duty
7. Habitual drunkenness
8. Imprisonment of the adverse party in a state or federal prison when the petition is filed with the Court
9. Procurement of a divorce outside Ohio, by a husband or wife, by virtue of which the party who procured it is released from the obligations of the marriage, while such obligations remain binding upon the other party
10. On the application of either party, when husband and wife have, without interruption for one year, lived separate and apart without cohabitation
So there you go, now you know that “he is a jerk” will not suffice as legally sufficient grounds to state in your complaint. You must plead and prove one of statutorily enumerated grounds established by the Ohio Legislature to obtain a divorce.
Under current Ohio law, grandparents are permitted to petition the court for visitation rights with respect to their grandchildren. One would think that such a petition would not be necessary, but, unfortunately, more than we would like to think grandparents are prevented from seeing thier grandchildren. Quite frequently, grandparents turn to the courts in order to have the opportunity to spend time with their grandchildren. This often comes up as a problem when a couple divorces and whomever is chosen as the residential parent does not want his or her former in-laws to visit the children. Therefore, grandparents need to be aware that if the Court finds that it is in the child’s best interest to have visitation with his or her grandparents, they do have legal recourse. However, it must be noted that the Court is required to give some special weight to the wishes of the parents as to whether the grandparents are granted the right to certain visitation with the children. This does not mean that the parents wishes control the Court’s decision, but that if the parents feel strongly against visitation, the court must consider that fact. But even if the residential parent does not want to allow the visitation, the Court can , and often does, grant the visitation if it is in the best interest of the child. There are specific stautory provisions that cover the visitation rights of grandparents in Ohio, so you should seek the advice of counsel to determine if your case is worth pursuing.