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Social Security Benefits not Subject to Division in Divorce

On March 15, 2011, the Michigan Court of Appeals decided, for the first time, that social security benefits are not marital property to be divided upon divorce. In the published case of Biondo v Biondo, the Court of Appeals determined that the federal social security law preempts a state court from transferring any of an individual’s social security benefits (42 USC 407). In Biondo, the parties had been married for more than 40 years. Their consent Judgment divided the marital estate and required them to “equalize their social security benefits.” When the defendant-wife sought a court order compelling performance of the judgment’s social security provisions, the trial court did so, over Plaintiff-husband’s objection. Husband subsequently appealed, and the Court of Appeals agreed with husband that federal law prevented the state court from enforcing the social security provisions of their divorce. The Court of Appeals did, however, determine that because no prior case law had removed social security benefits from the realm of marital property, the terms in the Judgment were a mutual mistake, and remanded to the trial court to decide whether it wished to modify the property settlement provisions in light of the instant decision. The Court held that the trial court may consider the parties’ anticipated social security benefits as one factor, among others, to be considered when re-devising an equitable distribution of the marital property. This case will significantly impact divorce judgments going forward.