Tiffault v. Tiffault, 23337

Decision Date27 November 1990
Docket NumberNo. 23337,23337
CourtSouth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesMarilyn F. TIFFAULT, Respondent, v. Raymond J. TIFFAULT, Jr., Petitioner. . Heard

John O. McDougall, of Weinberg, Brown & McDougall, Sumter, for respondent.

W. Jeffrey Young, of Young & Young, Sumter, for petitioner.

GREGORY, Chief Justice:

This domestic action is before us on a writ of certiorari to review the memorandum decision of the Court of Appeals holding vested military retirement benefits are subject to equitable division. In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals relied on Martin v. Martin, 296 S.C. 436, 373 S.E.2d 706 (Ct.App.1988). We affirm.

In Bugg v. Bugg, 277 S.C. 270, 286 S.E.2d 135 (1982), and Carter v. Carter, 277 S.C. 277, 286 S.E.2d 139 (1982), this Court recognized that military retirement benefits were not marital property as mandated by the United States Supreme Court in McCarty v. McCarty, 453 U.S. 210, 101 S.Ct. 2728, 69 L.Ed.2d 589 (1981). By subsequent legislative enactment, however, Congress effectively overruled McCarty and returned to the state courts the determination whether such benefits should be considered marital property. This Court again considered the issue and reaffirmed in Brown v. Brown, 279 S.C. 116, 302 S.E.2d 860 (1983), that military retirement benefits would not be treated as marital property. In Brown, we specifically held such benefits would be treated "as income and not as marital property." Id. at 118, 302 S.E.2d at 861.

Subsequently in Martin, the Court of Appeals decided contrary to our holding in Brown that military retirement benefits are marital property subject to equitable distribution. It found Brown inapplicable because the Equitable Apportionment of Marital Property Act (EAMPA) was enacted after our decision in Brown. Under EAMPA, marital property is statutorily defined as "all real and personal property which has been acquired by the parties during the marriage ... regardless of how legal title is held." S.C.Code Ann § 20-7-473 (Supp.1989). 1 The statute then lists five specific exceptions for certain categories of property, such as that acquired by inheritance or subject to certain antenuptial agreements. In Martin, the Court of Appeals concluded the EAMPA definition of marital property includes military retirement benefits simply because they are not expressly excluded.

We disagree with this reasoning. In order to be divisible as marital property under EAMPA, the marital asset must first be, by definition, real or personal property. In Brown, we held military retirement benefits constituted income and not property. The enactment of EAMPA had no impact upon this holding and we find no basis upon which Brown could be distinguished in the Martin case.

In any event, we are now prepared to overrule Brown in light of the economic reality that military retirement benefits accrued during marriage constitute a joint investment of both parties. Typically, as in this case, a military spouse must move from place to place and consequently forfeit a separate...

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26 cases
  • Wooten v. Wooten, 25977.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • May 2, 2005
    ...to award marital home to wife as part of equitable distribution of marital property), overruled on other grounds by Tiffault v. Tiffault, 303 S.C. 391, 401 S.E.2d 157 (1991); Josey v. Josey, 291 S.C. 26, 32, 351 S.E.2d 891, 895 (Ct.App.1986) (reversing family court's decision not to award m......
  • Wooten v. Wooten, Opinion No. 25977 (SC 6/6/2005), Opinion No. 25977.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of South Carolina
    • June 6, 2005
    ...to award marital home to wife as part of equitable distribution of marital property), overruled on other grounds by Tiffault v. Tiffault, 303 S.C. 391, 401 S.E.2d 157 (1991); Josey v. Josey, 291 S.C. 26, 32, 351 S.E.2d 891, 895 (Ct. App. 1986) (reversing family court's decision not to award......
  • Coon v. Coon, 3678.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • September 22, 2003
    ...retirement benefits "constitute an earned property right which, if accrued during the marriage, is subject to equitable distribution." 303 S.C. 391, 392-93, 401 S.E.2d 157, 158 (1991). Therefore, pursuant to Congress' invitation, our state has determined military retirement accounts are mar......
  • Jenkins v. Jenkins
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of South Carolina
    • December 5, 2012
    ...18 (Ct.App.2011). Military retirement benefits accrued during the marriage are subject to equitable distribution. Tiffault v. Tiffault, 303 S.C. 391, 393, 401 S.E.2d 157, 158 (1991). The appropriate factors to consider when making [736 S.E.2d 297]an equitable distribution award include the ......
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