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Domestic Relations – Equitable Distribution – Disability Benefits – NFL Injury

Domestic Relations – Equitable Distribution – Disability Benefits – NFL Injury

Wright v. Wright (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-07-0831, 13 pp.) (Rick Elmore, J.) Appealed from Cabarrus County District Court. (William G. Hamby Jr., J.) N.C. App. Full-text opinion.

Holding: Defendant received line-of-duty disability benefits as part of his retirement plan because “during his playing days, he … incurred a ‘substantial disablement arising out of NFL football activities.’” The trial court reasoned that these benefits are paid to individuals whose injuries render them unable to continue to play football, but who may continue to work in other professions. The trial court focused on the nature of defendant’s former profession but did not made sufficient findings of fact showing an application of the analytic approach adopted by our Supreme Court. On remand, the trial court should focus on the nature of the wages being replaced by the line-of-duty disability benefits.

We reverse the trial court’s equitable distribution order awarding 37.5 percent of defendant’s line-of-duty and total permanent disability benefits to plaintiff. Otherwise, we affirm. Remanded.

Where the total permanent disability benefits were paid to defendant to compensate him for an actual physical disability which rendered him wholly unable to secure any type of employment, these benefits should have been classified as defendant’s separate property. The record lacks any evidence showing that defendant’s marital labor contributed to his acquisition of these benefits, or that defendant contributed money to acquire these benefits. As such, we are unable to conclude that the trial court made a reasoned decision in finding these benefits to be partial marital property. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s award of 37.5 percent of these benefits to plaintiff, and we remand  the issue for further proceedings.

Even though the trial court rendered its equitable distribution judgment 21 months after the evidentiary hearing, defendant has not shown prejudice arising from the delay.


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