Articles Posted in Equitable Distribution

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Dear Carolyn:

I am involved in an equitable distribution case and I have a closely-held business in the Triad, which was started by my father. He still owns the majority of the business.  Eight years ago, my father gave me twenty-five percent of the business. I separated from my husband eight months ago. What can I expect in my divorce case related to my closely held business?  How do we go about getting a appraiser to appraise the business?  Can he get any of my stock in the family business?

Carolyn Answers….

 You ask a complex, but very interesting, question.  Rest assured that he cannot get any of the actual stock in your family’s business.  The stock itself is separate property because it was given to you by your father.

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McCarthy Estate of McCarthy, 145 F. Supp. 3d 278 (S.D.N.Y. 2015)

Facts: A husband and wife were divorced in Florida in In an agreement incorporated into the decree, the husband agreed to maintain his wife and daughters as beneficiaries of $4 million in life insurance.

When the husband died in 2013, he had only $50,000 in life insurance payable to his former wife and daughters. He had another $500,000 policy, which was employer-provided, but he had named his girlfriend as beneficiary. He had also given almost $360,000 to the girlfriend during his lifetime.

The husband’s estate was insolvent and unable to pay damages. The wife filed suit against the girlfriend, seeking to enforce a constructive trust on the proceeds of the $500,000 policy.

Issue: Are the former wife and daughters entitled to a constructive trust on the policy proceeds?

Answer to Issue: Yes.

Summary of Rationale: The husband’s clear breach of the divorce decree was sufficient under state law to justify imposition of a constructive But the policy at issue was employer-provided and regulated by ERISA. Thus, the only question was whether state law was preempted by federal law.

Following Andochick v. Byrd, 709 F.3d 296 (4th Cir.2013), the court addressed the question which the Supreme Court refused to consider in footnote 10 of Kennedy, and held that ERISA does not preempt state law claims between claiming beneficiaries after payment of benefits by the plan administrator. “As many courts have held in the wake of that decision, after proceeds have been distributed, parties’ rights and equities may be determined without regard to ERISA because post- distribution suits do not interfere with any of those objectives.” McCarthy, 145 F. Supp. 3d at 288.

Observations:

McCarthy did not expressly cite VanderKam VanderKam, 776 F.3d 883 (D.C. Cir. 2015), or any of the other cases holding that ERISA does preempt postpayment causes of action between competing beneficiaries. Continue reading →

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Becker Williams, F. Supp. 3d     , 2016 WL 878492 (W.D. Wash. 2016)

Facts: Husband and wife were married in In 2002, the husband designated the wife as survivor beneficiary of his retirement plans with Xerox.

Husband and wife were divorced in 2006. In 2007, the employer received several telephone calls from a person claiming to be the husband, who said that he wanted to change the beneficiary to his son by a prior marriage. In response to these calls, the employer sent the husband three different copies of the written form necessary to complete the change. The first two forms were not returned; the third form was returned unsigned and undated.

When the husband died, both wife and son asserted claims to the survivor benefits, and the employer interpleaded the benefits into federal court. The trial court declined to allow summary judgment, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding that a telephonic change of beneficiary was potentially enforceable, even without a writing, and that a it was a material issue of fact as to whether such a designation was actually made. Becker v. Williams, 777 F.3d 1035, 1042 (9th Cir. 2015). Upon remand, the district court held a trial and addressed the merits.

Issue: Who was entitled to the husband’s survivor benefits?

Answer to Issue: The wife

Summary of Rationale: Under Washington state law, to change a survivor beneficiary, an employee must substantially conform with the terms of the policy or “[S]ubstantial compliance with the terms of the policy means that the insured has not only manifested an intent to change beneficiaries, but has done everything which was reasonably possible to make that change.”   2016 WL 878492, at *2 (quoting Allen v. Abrahamson, 12 Wash. App. 103, 105, 529 P.2d 469, 470 (1974)).

The son did not meet his burden of proving substantial compliance. First, there was no evidence that the person who called to make the change of beneficiary was actually the husband. Second, the husband’s failure to return the first two forms and his failure to sign and date the third form suggest that his intention to change the beneficiary was not complete. In this regard, the court noted that the forms themselves stated that the change of beneficiary was not valid until the form was signed and returned. “[T]he failure to complete simple, mundane tasks undermines Asa Sr.’s alleged unequivocal desire to change his beneficiary.” Id. at *3.

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Walsh v. Dively, 551 B.R. 570 (W.D. Pa. 2016)

Facts: When husband and wife were divorced in Pennsylvania, they agreed that the wife would receive 50% of the husband’s The agreement was incorporated into the divorce decree, but no DRO was entered.

The wife then filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy trustee moved in bankruptcy court for authority to ask the state court to issue a DRO. The bankruptcy court denied the motion. The trustee then appealed.

Issue: Should the trustee be permitted to seek a DRO?

Answer to Issue: No

Summary of Rationale: The trustee has a duty to collect property of the estate in bankruptcy.  But retirement plans with an antialienation provision are not part of an estate in bankruptcy. Patterson v. Shumate, 504 U.S. 753 (1992). The retirement plan at issue was governed by ERISA, and it was subject to the statutory antialienation provision in ERISA unless a QDRO was entered. Because a DRO had not even been entered, let alone qualified by the plan, there was no QDRO, and the antialienation provision remained operative. Thus, the pension was not part of the wife’s estate in bankruptcy.

Note: As we shall shortly see, it is quite important that the state court awarded the wife an actual interest in a retirement plan, and not an award of cash she could spend freely for any purpose.

 

In re Kizer, 539 R. 316 (Bankr. E.D. Mich. 2015)

Facts: In a consent judgment of divorce, a court awarded the husband 50% of three retirement accounts owned by the wife. The wife was also awarded the marital home, but required to pay the husband for his interest. Because she lacked the funds to make the payments, she agreed to pay for the home by giving up her interest in the requirement accounts, increasing the husband’s interest to 100%.

QDROs were subsequently entered and approved, directing the administrators of the accounts to transfer to the husband 100% of the balance of certain accounts. The plan administrators complied with the QDROs by giving the husband accounts containing the funds at issue. A finding of fact was made that the husband could make withdrawals from these accounts at any time, without any form of early withdrawal penalty. (The husband claimed that his withdrawals were subject to a penalty, but he failed to produce supporting evidence, even after the court gave the husband additional time.)

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By Sade Knox, Intern, Woodruff Family Law Group

Chafin v. Chafin, 791 S.E.2d 693 (N.C. Ct. App. 2016)

Facts: In late 1988, Plaintiff and Defendant entered into a marriage that lasted about twenty years before the parties separated in June of 2008. During the years of the marriage, Defendant was an owner of a close to non-profiting auto-sales company in North Carolina. The company operated during the marriage up until the date of separation between the parties, which was when the company had dissolved, in 2008. That following year, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking equitable distribution of the marital and divisible property and provided inventory affidavits listing the assets of the marital home shared by the parties and the company that Defendant owned. The company’s assets mainly included the bank accounts, vehicle inventory, and Cash on Hand. Defendant failed to follow the trial court’s order to serve his equitable distribution inventory affidavit but, later served an affidavit in response to the proposed pretrial order, objecting to Plaintiff’s classification of the company’s assets.

Because of the evidentiary support provided by Plaintiff, the trial court found that the assets in question were marital property and awarded Plaintiff a lump sum that Defendant was required to pay in monthly payments. Though Defendant argued otherwise, the court found that due to Defendant’s income and assets from his employment, he was capable of distributing award to Plaintiff. Defendant went on to file four motions that were denied, but eventually, the court allowed Defendant’s motion to preserve the record in which evidence was offered to show that not all vehicles listed on the pretrial order were on the auto company’s lot on the date of the parties’ separation. Defendant appeals the trial court’s other findings.

Issue: Whether all the mentioned assets of the auto company and the shared home were marital and divisible property and correctly stated.

Answer to Issue: Yes.

Summary of Rationale: All personal and real property acquired by either spouse, during the marriage up until the date of separation is marital property. Defendant, owner of the auto sale company, deemed the company as personal property and the shared home was real property, both of which were acquired by the Defendant during the period of the parties’ marriage, classifying both the company’s assets and the home as marital property.

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State Farm Life & Assurance Co. v. Goecks, F. Supp. 3d       , 2016 WL 1715205 (W.D. Wis. 2016)

Facts: A Wisconsin divorce decree provided:

The respondent [Gary] shall be required to maintain the petitioner [Sharon] as the primary, irrevocable beneficiary on one third of the face value of all his life insurance policies in effect as of the date of the final hearing or in the amount of Seventy Five Thousand Dollars ($75,000) of the face value of said policies, whichever sum is greater. Respondent shall provide the petitioner proof of said insurance and beneficiary designations. Petitioner shall pay the respondent the sum of Twenty Five Dollars ($25.00) per month toward the cost of said insurance. The parties further agree to designate the children as primary beneficiaries of all life insurance policies except as set forth above.  2016 WL 1715205, at *1. The divorce decree was not submitted to the employer for qualification as a QDRO.

The husband initially complied with the above provision, but later changed the beneficiary on some of his life insurance to his new wife. Upon his death, the insurers paid some of the benefits to the new wife, and interpleaded the remainder. Both wives asserted competing claims to the proceeds.

Of the various insurance policies at issue, one was an employer-provided policy regulated by ERISA.

Issue: Who is entitled to the proceeds from the employer-provided policy?

Answer to Issue: The husband’s wife at the time of his death.

Summary of Rationale: The court first held that the husband had breached the contract, rejecting a rather weak state law argument that the agreement only required the husband to name his former wife and children as a beneficiary of the insurance, and not as the exclusive beneficiary.

The employer-provided life insurance policy was part of a benefit plan, and it was therefore subject to ERISA. Benefits regulated by ERISA can be transferred only under terms of a QDRO. No QDRO was ever submitted. Thus, federal law preempted state law and barred enforcement of the decree with regard to the ERISA- regulated policy.

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Family Chiropractic Sports Injury & Rehab Clinic, v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2016-10, 2016 WL 234515 (2016)

Facts: Husband and wife operated a chiropractic The practice had an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (“ESOP”). Husband and wife were the only participants.

The parties were divorced in Iowa. The decree was silent on the ESOP, but the wife agreed to transfer her interest in the ESOP to the husband. She later did so.

The IRS decertified the ESOP, resulting in the loss of valuable tax benefits, on the ground that the transfer to the wife violated the antiassignment provision of the plan and the antiassignment provision of ERISA. The practice filed a declaratory judgment action questioning the decertification.

Issue: Did the IRS err in decertifying the ESOP?

Answer to Issue: No.

Summary of Rationale: The plan provided that vested benefits could not be transferred. There was no divorce exception. The wife’s vested benefits were transferred to the husband. Therefore, the provision was violated and the ESOP was correctly decertified.

Observations: Continue reading →

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Dahl Aerospace Employees’ Ret. Plan of Aerospace Corp., 122 F. Supp. 3d 453 (E.D. Va. 2015)

Facts: A Virginia divorce decree, incorporating a settlement agreement, gave each spouse the option to elect survivor benefits under the retirement plan of the other This provision was not immediately stated in a DRO or qualified by the plan.

The husband’s pension plan allowed him, upon retirement, to elect a 50%, 75%, or 100% survivor benefit.

The husband retired on July 31, 2014, 11 years after the divorce decree. He did not notify his former wife in advance, or give her any option to elect survivor benefits. Instead, he elected his current wife as 50% survivor beneficiary. He stated in his election that no outstanding court order required him to name another person as survivor beneficiary—a blatantly false statement.

Upon learning of the husband’s retirement, the former wife’s counsel prepared a draft DRO requiring the husband’s employer to act as if the husband had elected 100% survivor benefits for his former wife. The retirement plan refused to qualify this order, on the grounds that the husband had already elected a 50% benefit for his current wife and he was only permitted to name one survivor beneficiary.

The former wife sued the plan and the husband in federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the husband’s election of his current wife as survivor beneficiary was void for fraud, and that the plan was required to qualify an appropriate DRO naming the former wife as survivor beneficiary. The plan and the husband moved to dismiss the wife’s action.

Issue: Should the wife’s action be dismissed?

Answer to Issue: Yes.

Summary of Rationale: The plan argued that the wife lacked standing, because she was not an actual plan But a person with a claim to benefits is also entitled to sue the plan. The former wife had a colorable claim to benefits.

At the time the husband retired, there was no QDRO in effect limiting his choice of survivor beneficiary. Therefore, the former wife could prevail only by establishing that the husband’s survivor benefit election was void. She cited no case law holding that an election of survivor benefits is void if a false statement is made which defrauds a former spouse who has not yet obtained a QDRO. In the absence of such law, the court refused to hold that the survivor benefit election was void.

Because the former wife did not obtain a QDRO, the husband’s election of his current wife was enforceable under ERISA, even though the election violated a state court order.

Observations:

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Belot v. Comm’r, T.C. Memo. 2016-113, 2016 WL 3248031 (2016)

Facts: During their marriage, the parties operated a dance studio. The business consisted of an S corporation which was the actual studio, an LLC which operated a boutique selling dance clothing, and another LLC which owned the real estate on which the studio operated. The parties owned each of these entities in different percentages.

The parties were divorced in New Jersey in 2007. The decree incorporated an agreement signed by the parties, in which they agreed to convey interests in the entities so that each of them owned 50% of all three entities. The decree therefore left the divorcing parties as joint owners of the business.

Later in 2007, the wife filed a complaint against the husband, alleging that he had mismanaged the studio, and seeking to remove him as director and employee. This action was settled in 2008 by an agreement, in which the wife agreed to buy the husband’s interest in the business for $900,000 to be paid at closing, and $680,000 to be paid over 10 years.

The husband filed tax returns which claimed that the sale of the business under the 2008 agreement was a § 1041 exchange. When the IRS assessed a deficiency, the husband then appealed to the Tax Court.

Issue: Was the transfer required by the 2008 agreement a 1041 exchange?

Answer to Issue: Yes

Summary of Rationale: The IRS relied upon Reg. § 1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-7, which provides:

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Dana M. Horlick, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

Whenever you become a party to a lawsuit, whether you are the Plaintiff or the Defendant, there are deadlines imposed by the Court, by statute, and by the Rules of Civil Procedure that are important to follow. There are deadlines whether you are in Guilford County, North Carolina or Fulton County, Georgia. Missing such a deadline could severely impact your rights.

For a real life celebrity example, let’s look at Phaedra Parks – star of Real Housewives of Atlanta – and her jailed husband, Apollo Nida. The couple were married in 2009 and separated in 2014.

On December 1st of this year, Apollo Nida filed a Complaint against Phaedra Parks, seeking a divorce, along with joint legal custody of the minor children and an equitable division of all of the personal property, assets, and marital debts.

However, back in November of this year, the parties were granted a divorce, after Nida failed to respond to Parks’ divorce petition. Parks filed for divorce in March of 2015 and subsequently was divorced in November. The judge also awarded Parks custody of the parties’ two children. Nida will have visitation rights once he completes the eight-year prison sentence he is currently serving for bank fraud and identity theft.

Now consider if this situation happened here in Guilford County. Once the parties remain separated for one year, either of the parties can file for divorce, which Parks does. Once the Plaintiff has effectuated service of the divorce complaint on the Defendant, the Defendant has 30 days to respond. The 30-day deadline is according to the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure. To extend this deadline, the Defendant can file a Motion for Extension of Time and receive an extension, as long as the deadline has not already passed. Now in the case of Parks and Nida, Nida never filed an Answer and never sought an extension of time.

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