Family Law Case Review 4/13/11

Case: George F. Evans, Jr. v. Peggy A. Evans

Case Summary by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham McHale LLP

HELD: Trial court acted within its discretion by reforming a decree, pursuant to TR 60(B), so as to provide an alternate transfer of property to Wife after it was determined that the transfer of retirement funds by QDRO that was originally contemplated under the Decree could not legally be implemented.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY: The trial court issued its Decree and property division orders on March 7, 2007. The Decree found a net marital estate of $743,860, and concluded that each party should receive half, or $371,930. Wife was allocated property worth $263,255. The remaining $108,675 due to Wife to reach her 50% share was to be accomplished by a QDRO that allocated Wife an interest in Husband’s UAW pension that would pay her the subject shortfall over 10 years, plus 5% interest.

In the following months, counsel for the parties twice failed to accomplish the acceptance by the plan administrator of a QDRO that would perfect the intended allocation. Apparently, for reasons not developed in detail in the opinion, the problem was that integral provisions of the Decree (and, thus, the QDRO) could not satisfy provisions of ERISA and Husband’s plan. Thus, carrying out the intent of the Decree through a QDRO allocation was impossible.

Before the issue could be resolved, Wife died. Wife’s estate filed a motion in the divorce court and successfully replaced Wife as an interested party.

Wife’s estate also filed a motion to compel payment of the outstanding $108,675, which the trial court construed as a Trial Rule 60(B) motion. After a hearing, the trial court concluded that transfer of the $108,675 via QDRO was a legal impossibility, and instead issued an alternative order for the payment of $108,675 against Husband and in favor of Wife’s estate. Husband appealed.

Husband asserts on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion by correcting the Decree pursuant to Trial Rule 60(B) and, further, that under Trial Rule 60(B), the motion filed by Wife’s estate was not timely. The Court of Appeals concluded that the motion of Wife’s estate properly fell under the catch-all provision of Trial Rule 60(B)(8) to equitably implement relief from a judgment and, further, that, while the motion could have been filed earlier, it was nevertheless filed within a reasonable time under the circumstances. Thus, the trial court’s order was affirmed.

Judge Riley dissented in part, concluding that implementation of the original Decree — as it was intended — demanded that Wife’s estate receive not the entire $108,675 that was ordered by the trial court but, instead, only the value of the payments Wife would have received under the intended QDRO up until Wife’s death, as the parties’ QDRO that was never implemented specifically provided that, in the event of Wife’s death prior to the 10 years of transfers, any outstanding interest in the pension would revert back to Husband.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: George F. Evans, Jr. v. Peggy A. Evans

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