Trial court correctly excluded Husband’s military pension from the marital estate since it was not vested

Case: In Re the Marriage of: Teasha J. Harris v. Anthony J. Harris
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: When a party consents to the personal jurisdiction of a divorce court for purposes of issuing a decree that dissolves the marital status, and resolves issues of child custody and support, the court also acquires personal jurisdiction to divide the marital estate. Personal jurisdiction over divorce issues is not conferred selectively.

HELD: Trial court correctly excluded Husband’s military pension from the marital estate since it was not vested.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
In 1995, the parties married in New York and later had one child together. In 2005, the parties separated with Wife moving to Indiana. In 2008, Wife filed a petition for dissolution of marriage in Indiana. Husband was then living in North Carolina, but stationed in Germany. The trial court subsequently granted Wife’s request for a Decree, and awarded her custody of Child and issued a child support order. In a prior appeal, Husband successfully had the Decree set aside for lack of personal jurisdiction over him, excepting only the trial court’s termination of the parties’ marital status, which, as an in rem matter, did not require personal jurisdiction over Husband.

Following that prior appeal, Husband and Wife submitted an agreed entry resolving all custody and child support issues, which the trial court approved the same day. Wife then filed a petition for an equitable division of the parties’ marital estate and for spousal maintenance. The trial court declined Wife’s petition, citing the lack of personal jurisdiction issue that had been determined on Husband’s prior appeal. Despite its reluctance over personal jurisdiction, the trial court also determined Husband’s military pension was not a vested marital asset. Wife appealed.

The Court of Appeals noted that personal jurisdiction can be acquired through the consent of the party, which occurred here when Husband participated in the agreed entry that dissolved the marriage and resolved children’s issues. Further, once personal jurisdiction is conferred, it is not conferred on selective issues, but on all issues necessary to dispose of the case. Thus, by submitting himself to the personal jurisdiction of the Court on children’s issues, Husband also conferred personal jurisdiction for the resolution of property division and spousal maintenance issues.

However, the Court of Appeals also determined that the trial court made the correct determination as to Husband’s military pension. At the time that the parties’ agreed entry and decree of dissolution of marriage was approved by the trial court, Husband’s military pension had not vested and was not a marital asset.

The trial court’s decision was reversed as to its determination that it lacked personal jurisdiction to divide the marital estate and consider spousal maintenance, and those issues were remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: In Re the Marriage of: Teasha J. Harris v. Anthony J. Harris

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James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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