Posted by Nydia Streets of Streets Law in Florida Divorce

Who knew that Florida family law cases would allow attorneys to flex their math skills? One recent appellate case puts those skills to the test where a trial court apparently had difficulty calculating the marital portion of a retirement account. 

In Bolden v. Bolden, 1D18-0576 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018), the former husband was a retired military service member. When the parties divorced, there appeared to be some confusion as to the amount of the former husband’s retirement account to which the former wife was entitled. 

When a Florida divorce court calculates the marital portion of a retirement account, first a coveture fraction is established which has as the numerator the amount of time the account participant was married while participating in the plan and the denominator is the total amount of time the participant has in the retirement plan. This is then multiplied by the present value of the account to establish the marital portion of a retirement plan. 

In this case, the former wife appealed the trial court’s calculation of her portion of the former husband’s retirement account, arguing the trial court erred in three respects: (1) it used inconsistent numbers to determine the coveture fraction; (2) it used the incorrect amount to deduct what the former husband was ordered to pay his first wife from his retirement account; and (3) the trial court miscalculated the length of the parties’ marriage. The former wife also argued it was error for the trial court to deduct the amount former husband paid to his first wife when calculating former wife’s entitlement.

On the first three grounds, the trial court’s ruling was reversed. The appellate court held: “Appellee's total term of military service constituted 295 months, from July 1987 when he enlisted, to February 2012 when he retired, as the trial court indicated. However, the trial court's findings that the parties were married in March 2009, and appellee retired in February 2012, indicate the parties were married for roughly 35 months during which appellee was accruing pension benefits, not the 23 months the court used in its calculations. The trial court's finding that appellant is entitled to 3.9% of appellee's retirement pay is thus inaccurate. The calculation should have been 35 months divided by 295 months (divided by 2), which would have yielded an entitlement of roughly 5.9%-6.0% of appellee's retirement pay.”

As to the issue of the former wife’s objection to the court deducting the first wife’s pay, the appellate court sided with the trial court, holding: “Appellant is only entitled to the portion of appellee's retirement benefits that appellee accumulated during the parties' marriage. Since appellee's first wife was already entitled to a portion of appellee's retirement benefits via court order when the first marriage was dissolved, appellant cannot make a claim to the portion of the funds that were already allocated to appellee's first wife.”

Calculating entitlement to retirement pay in a Florida divorce can present complicated scenarios. This is why you should consult with a Miami divorce lawyer to understand the best way to approach your case.