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RI Supreme Court overturns Family Court ruling on intersection of retirement benefits and alimony.


The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently issued a decision in Bober v. Bober which largely upholds the trial judge's trial ruling, but with one significant exception involving the interplay of pension benefits and the award of alimony. Both parties had appealed portions of Judge H. Lipsey's lengthy decision which awarded the wife 60% of the marital assets, long-term alimony, and retroactive child support. The appeals court noted that "this was a bitterly contested and acrimonious divorce" in which one spouse "incurred legal fees in excess of $239,000."

Of particular interest was wife's claim on appeal that the trial judge's award of medical coverage was insufficient since she suffers from multiple sclerosis. She alleged that the health insurance provision of the decision made her "irreparably vulnerable" due to the husband's subsequent remarriage and "collective bargaining changes or political climate." In upholding Judge Lipsey's decision, the court ruled that she could always seek a modification of alimony "should her medical coverage cease."

Also, both parties appealed the trial judge's ruling regarding the interaction between his alimony award and the husband's anticipated future receipt of retirement benefits. The wife alleged it was error to terminate her alimony because husband could control the date of his retirement as a firefighter. The husband asserted that the ruling was mistaken because the anticipated retirement benefit was too low to allow him to retire. In a lengthy analysis, the court found that the case paralleled prior rulings involving the intersection of retirement benefits and alimony and that the trial justice "failed to articulate the potential option of requiring [husband] to pay [wife] her share of the pension benefits, either at the time of the divorces or upon [husband] attaining full eligibility.

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