The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, recently recognized a retroactive QDRO. The case involved the 1993 divorce of Henry Patterson and Ardella Patterson. The divorce decree awarded Ardella half of her former husband's pension benefits, which he began receiving in April of 1994 until his death in November of 2007. Ardella submitted her divorce judgment to the plan administrator in December of 1994 but was told that the judgment alone would not qualify as a domestic relations order. Ardella resubmitted her divorce judgment in 2008, and she was again denied her claim for benefits because the divorce judgment alone did not qualify as a domestic relations order. Henry Patterson had no remaining benefits to be assigned to her. The plan concluded that because Henry had elected a single life annuity and then died, no remaining benefits were available to be paid to Ardella. After a third unsuccessful submission in 2012, Ardella filed a Qualified Domestic Relations Order Nunc Pro Tunc, which is an order that is applied retroactively. The district court found in favor of Ardella and decided that it would accept the order as having been entered in 1993 so that at the time it was entered there was a benefit capable of being split. The court reasoned that had the order had been implemented in 1993, it would not have provided for increased benefits. Therefore, the plan was required to pay a survivor benefit to Ardella, even though Henry had elected (and been paid) a life annuity that was larger in amount than the benefits that would have been paid to him if he had elected a survivor annuity for Ardella's benefit.
The Case is Patterson v. Chrysler Group, LLC, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18862 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 17, 2016), and emphasizes that it is never too late to obtain a QDRO to receive pension benefits awarded pursuant to a divorce decree.
If you are currently going through the process of a divorce or legal separation, or are thinking about filing for divorce or legal separation, and either you or your spouse is a participant in a retirement plan, contact one of our highly qualified attorneys for a free consultation regarding either the preparation of your QDRO or the review of a QDRO previously prepared.