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Is ex-wife entitled to half of convicted police chief’s pension?

Although this particular case did not originate in our state, Georgia readers of our blog might be interested in it none the less. The case involves a police chief who was convicted on charges of insurance fraud and official misconduct. Although he intends to appeal his conviction, if it holds up in appeals court he could lose his $11,000 monthly pension. Prior to his conviction, and alleged illegal activities he was divorced.

Now his ex-wife wants to ensure her half of the pension earned during their marriage is not lost to her. You see, in New Jersey, where the case originates state law dictates retirement payments can be barred to a person imprisoned upon a conviction for any crimes involving “moral turpitude,” which just happens to include official misconduct. The law does allow for payments to be made to certain family members as long as the state Division of Pension and Benefits makes a determination that the payments are required “for their maintenance.”

The attorney for the ex-wife is asking a judge to protect her client’s half of the ex-husband’s pension, should the court decide to bar payments based on his conviction. The attorney is basing her argument on two premises; first, the divorce was finalized prior to the alleged criminal activity that resulted in his conviction. And secondly, half of her ex-husband’s pension was promised to her client in 2002 when the divorce was finalized and the settlement agreed to.

Opinion as to whether the ex-wife has a chance of protecting her half of her ex-spouse’s pension is mixed. Some are saying if his pension is wiped out it is simply not possible to split nothing into two. Others say if the divorce settlement stipulates she is to get half of the pension, and she was not at all involved in any of the illegal activity, which all reports seem to indicate, than she should be entitled to half of the pension regardless of how the convicted police chief’s appeal turns out.

An attorney who practices family law stated that if the divorce decree was reached prior to the misconduct, and the necessary documents were created after the divorce that notified the state’s pension board that she was entitled to half of the pension, she should prevail in the case. Another attorney, who works in pension law, stated that a stipulated dollar amount may be required in the divorce decree for the ex-wife to prove her case. What do you think – is the ex-wife entitled to her half of the pension?

Source: The Record, “Former Hackensack police chief Ken Zisa’s ex-wife wants half of his pension, even if he loses right to all of it,” Karen Sudol, Aug. 24, 2012

Our law firm handles a variety of family law cases, including divorce and the appeals of a divorce decree or settlement. Please visit our Georgia divorce appeals page if you would like to learn more.