Family Law Blog: Husband’s Failure to Act Timely Resulted in Waiver to Assert Issue Years Later

Case: Ronald Fritts v. Linda Fritts
by Mike Kohlhaas, Bingham Greenebaum Doll

HELD: Husband’s failure to act timely with a motion to correct error when he learned within days of the Court’s 2010 Decree that the Court’s and parties’ understanding of Husband’s pension was materially incorrect resulted in a waiver to assert the issue years later.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
Husband and Wife married in 1993 and separated with Wife’s petition for dissolution filed in 2008. While the divorce was pending, Husband retired from Delphi. At the time, Husband elected a surviving spouse benefit on his defined benefit pension.

The trial court’s divorce Decree adopted the parties’ joint pension analysis, concluding that Husband’s Delphi pension was worth $771,923, the coverture portion of which was $283,183. The Decree awarded Wife one-half of the coverture portion. There was no mention of the survivor’s benefit. Shortly after Decree, Husband learned that, because PBGC had taken over the pension due to Delphi’s bankruptcy, his survivor benefit election was irrevocable. However, Husband filed no motion to correct error on the issue (and, later, no Trial Rule 60(B) motion).

Extensive post-decree litigation of numerous issues followed, including one appeal prior to this one. More recently, it appears, Husband raised the issue of his pension and how it was handled under the Decree. The trial court set that issue, and several others, for hearing in early 2014. At that hearing, Husband testified that, based upon Social Security Administration data and his own calculations, Wife was actuarially likely to outlive him by 16 years and receive $487,889 by way of her survivor benefit. In a subsequent order, while the trial court noted that the situation with Husband’s pension clearly was not contemplated at the final hearing, there was inadequate evidence presented for the court to impose any remedy. So, the original Decree terms would stand. Husband appealed.

In its opinion affirming the trial court, the Court of Appeals focused on the fact that Husband appeared to learn about the pension problem shortly after the Decree was issued, but took no steps to raise the issue timely. “Because he did not do so, he may not argue on appeal that the trial court’s decision not to credit [Wife] for the surviving spouse benefits she might receive is clearly erroneous.” The trial court’s decision as to the pension was affirmed.

To view the text of this opinion in its entirety, click here: Ronald Fritts v. Linda Fritts

_________________________________________________________________________________

James A. Reed and Michael R. Kohlhaas of Bingham Greenebaum Doll represent clients in a wide spectrum of relationship transition and wealth planning matters, including premarital agreements, estate planning, cohabitation, separation, divorce (especially involving high net worth individuals and/or complex asset issues), custody, parenting arrangements, adoption, and domestic partnerships. Bingham Greenebaum Doll, a multidisciplinary law firm serving regional, national, and international clients, is the fourth-largest law firm in Indiana. The firm’s main practices include corporate, property, litigation, labor, government law, and personal services law. Visit the firm’s website at www.bgdlegal.com.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

Leave a Reply