Summary of Morrison v. Morrison, S. Ct. Arkansas, 1985
Disability Pensions as Marital Property
Relevant Facts: During the marriage of the parties the husband worked as a Fireman for the city of L.A. In the course of that employment a cyst was discovered on his knee. It was removed by surgery, but a disabling infection developed. His knee suffered a 78% permanent physical impairment and he was awarded $1,165 per month out of his retirement fund. The wife worked at various jobs during the marriage.
Legal Issue(s): Whether a spouse’s disability retirement benefits are marital property?
Court’s Holding: Yes
Procedure: Trial ct. determined that the benefits were marital property. Affirmed.
Law or Rule(s): All marital property shall be divided equally “unless the court finds such a division to be inequitable."
Court Rationale: Earnings or other property acquired by each spouse must be treated as marital property, unless it is a statutory exception. The retirement benefits come from an annuity purchased during the marriage with the income of one spouse. Disability benefits are not a statutory exception to marital property, but is property that was acquired during the course of a marriage. The division of the disability retirement benefits is within the trial court’s discretion. If the trial court determines that the medical impairment is severe, the award to the appellee would be reduced below one-half.
Plaintiff’s Argument: (wife/ee) Disability retirement benefits constitute marital property when the parties paid periodic contributions expecting future benefits.
Defendant’s Argument: (husband/ant)Disability benefits are compensation for impairment to one’s body and are not a typical asset acquired during a marriage.
Min: In community property states disability benefits are not treated as marital property. Where a spouse has not contributed and the disability benefits are unliquidated, future benefits, they are not marital property subject to division. If the other spouse is healthy, able, and qualified to work it is not just or equitable to award one-half of disability payment to that spouse.