Johnson v. Johnson, 2014 UT 21 (June 20, 2014)

On certiorari, the Utah Supreme Court considered whether a panel majority of the Utah Court of Appeals erred in applying the “marital foundation” approach to determine the amount of a military pension that constitutes marital property. The Utah Supreme Court addressed, as a matter of first impression, how to determine the employee spouse’s monthly benefit subject to equitable distribution. The court considered the two approaches at the ends of the spectrum: the bright line approach and the marital foundation approach. Under the bright line approach, post-divorce increases in pension benefits are treated as post-divorce earnings and categorized as separate property. The marital foundation approach, on the other hand, treats all post-divorce increases in marital pension benefits as marital property. Given the district court’s role of making an equitable distribution of property, the court refused to adopt either approach, instead adopting a context-specific approach. Under this approach, district courts should evaluate all relevant factors and circumstances in making a determination as to the most equitable distribution of pension benefits.