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Supreme Court Consults Dictionaries in Pension Payout Precedent

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A retired state cop will have to pay his ex a portion of the military pension he accrued before their marriage. This according to the Illinois Supreme Court, which went to lexical and legal lengths to set precedent. At issue is whether a pair of lump-sum payments made during the couple’s time together that boosted the value of Frank Ochoa’s nest egg meant the payouts could be construed as marital property. Despite finding favor with district and appellate judges, the high court’s verdict means that the former trooper must split almost $700 per month with his former wife from a four-year stint in the US Air Force that took place decades before they wed.

In rendering its verdict, the court overturned rulings that the rise in value triggered by the purchases belonged to Ochoa alone. He had been twice ordered to pay Louise Zamundio half the money they spent to increase the total. Justices agreed that purchases made during the union amounted to common property, calling the enhancements essential to increasing the value of the payouts. While the state’s Pension Code dictates payment terms, judges had to consult dictionaries from publishers Merriam-Webster and Black’s to define common ownership because the Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act lacks a plainly stated standard for determining joint acquisition of marital assets.