Under the clear language of La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2801.1, a trial court is granted discretion to choose whether to award a spouse additional community assets as compensation for the right to receive social security benefits, or the benefits themselves, of the other spouse when those benefits would otherwise be classified as community property but for federal preemption. Thus, an appellate court, when reviewing a judgment reached under § 9:2801.1, will apply the abuse of discretion standard of review.
The matter arose from a divorce and subsequent partition of property. On remand, the trial court had completely allocated the assets and ordered that the husband pay the wife $ 1,000 in final spousal support. The wife appealed.
Did the trial court abuse its discretion by awarding support to the ex-wife to compensate for the ex-husband's social security benefits?
The appellate court affirmed. The wife contended that it was in error to not award her additional community assets to compensate her for the husband's social security benefits, for which she was not eligible to receive due to federal law. However, the appellate court stated that the trial court's judgment regarding its discretionary decision based on La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 9:2801.1 was proper. The trial court indicated that the choice to not compensate the wife for the husband's social security benefits was made in light of its award to the wife for final periodic support of $ 1,000 per month. Further, the couple's three children were all majors, the husband had contributed to their higher education, and the wife made herself employable by attaining a nursing degree. The amount of spousal support was proper because the trial court took heed of the factors in La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 112 and the wife had been awarded a substantial amount from the husband's retirement accounts.