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COA reverses decree award of military benefits

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a portion of a divorce decree awarding some of the husband's military benefits and housing allowance to his wife because the separation agreement excluded granting the wife any rights to them.
 
In Timothy D. Wolshire v. Sharon M. Wolshire, No. 16A05-0812-CV-722, Timothy Wolshire appealed the divorce decree which added language to the provision of the parties' separation agreement governing the division of proceeds from the sale of the marital home; awarded Sharon a portion of his military benefits; and gave her a portion of Timothy's military housing allowance he received after the two separated.

The Wolshires filed for legal separation in September 2005; Sharon had an attorney and Timothy appeared pro se. They entered into a separation agreement awarding the marital home to Sharon and the amount Timothy would get if she sold the home. Under "Other Property," the provision stated except for anything otherwise specifically provided for in the separation agreement, Sharon or Timothy would retain separate and exclusive property of anything they already owned or arising out of the marital relationship.

After they separated, but before they officially divorced, Timothy began serving full time in the National Guard and received a basic allowance for housing in March 2006. In September 2007, he began sending the allowance to Sharon based on the advice of a military attorney. But because of the separation agreement, he wasn't legally required to send it.

In September 2008, the trial court issued its decree of dissolution and stuck to the separation agreement except it added language regarding the sale of the marital home that made Timothy responsible for repair and replacement of existing structures upon sale of the home. The trial court also awarded Sharon four months of housing allowance for a total of $5,648 and determined she'd be eligible for a portion of Timothy's military retirement benefits.

The Court of Appeals reversed the disputed portions of the divorce decree because the trial court should have followed the language in the separation agreement instead of adding in new language regarding the marital home or benefits.

When the parties entered into the agreement, there was no mention of Timothy's military benefits. Sharon testified that the benefits just didn't come up when they were putting together the agreement, but a mere oversight doesn't allow the trial court to grant her the benefits when the separation agreement doesn't specify, wrote Judge Patricia Riley.

In regards to Timothy's basic allowance for housing, those payments fall under the "Other Property" provision of the separation agreement and should remain only his property. Sharon's argument that the trial court should have dealt with the allowance because the agreement doesn't mention them is problematic because it would render the "Other Property" provision meaningless, the judge wrote. Because the allowance and benefits weren't specifically mentioned in the separation agreement, and because they were issued to Timothy, the trial court erred in awarding a portion of them to Sharon.

The parties lost any right they might have in later-acquired property when they entered into the separation agreement, and that's a risk Sharon took by signing the agreement, wrote Judge Riley. The case is remanded with instructions to amend the dissolution decree in accordance with the opinion.

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