Articles Posted in Equitable Distribution

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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.

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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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CarolynCarolyn Woodruff, a North Carolina CPA and Family Law Specialist, frequently is faced in sending a divorce client in the right direction after receiving a retirement plan in a divorce settlement.   Here are her thoughts on the subject:

The recipient may be receiving generally one or more of three types of retirement funds: (1) IRA; (2) 401k; and/or (3) defined benefit plan. Each type of plan should be evaluated as each has unique characteristics discussed hereafter.

Overall, there are four questions the divorcee should ask immediately post-divorce: (1) Age: What is my age now and at what age do I expect to retire? (2) Debt: What is my debt? Do I owe credit cards? Car debt? Is my home paid for? (3) Advisor: Do I need a financial planner or advisor, or am I competent to make investments myself? If the divorcee can do some basic investment herself, she can save administrative costs with mutual funds such as Vanguard. (4) Goal:  How much will I need for retirement adjusted for inflation? The goal is to develop a plan that achieves the goal with moderate or low-risk investments.

Hypothetical: A 40- year-old divorcee would like to retire at 67, which means she has 27 years to plan for retirement. Let’s say she has a 20-year mortgage on her newly acquired home, so this should be paid for before retirement, and perhaps available for a reverse mortgage at some point after retirement if needed. The availability of a reverse mortgage might be the source for medical bills in retirement.  However, she still has school debt, credit card debt and a car payment. She thinks that she will want $4000 per month in retirement after inflation adjustments are made. Let’s say she receives $100,000 in a 401k at the divorce, $20,000 in an IRA, and a small defined benefit plan that will pay $250 a month for her life when she is 67. Her predicted social security is $1500. So with social security at $1500 and the defined benefit plan at $250, she has $1750 of the needed $4000, so she has to make up $2,250 per month or $27,000 per year.. Let’s say her life expectancy is 88, but quite frankly it is good to plan for 100 so you do not out live your money. So that means the money needs to last for 33 years in retirement. The question is how does the divorcee plan for $27,000 per year for the 33 years? What is the amount of savings she will need to make up the $27,000.  At a planned withdrawal rate of  5 percent in retirement, this divorcee is going to need around $540,000  in retirement to meet her goal. At a planned withdrawal rate at retirement of 4 percent, she will need a nest egg of $675,000.  While a financial planner could do some allegedly precise calculations, here’s generally how the discussion will go. (I say allegedly because no one can be sure what inflation will be and what investment rate of return will be. Conservatively, the IRA should grow to at least $150,000 in 33 years. The $100,000 in the 401k should grow to make up the remainder of the needed money. So, the focus should be on investment vehicles that will turn the $20,000 in the IRA and the $100,000 in the 401k into $675,000 between now and retirement.

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13062458_1042739802458603_2436945721037467362_nBy: Dana M. Horlick, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

 

Now let’s change the hypothetical of our Greensboro couple – Petunia and Rocky – in one respect. Recall that Petunia’s parents wanted her to have a premarital agreement regarding Home Grown Lawn Care, but Petunia and Rocky did not sign one. Maybe a few years into her marriage, Petunia realizes that she wants to keep Home Grown Lawn Care in the family and that Rocky and her parents just do not get along. So Petunia executes a will, leaving her shares of Home Grown Lawn Care to her parents and the remainder of her estate to Rocky.

Under this scenario, Petunia’s parents would receive her shares of Home Grown Lawn Care, valued at $125,000.00. Rocky would receive the 401(k) worth $15,000.00. Rocky may decide that he is entitled to a larger share of Petunia’s estate. He can then exercise the right to elective share, which is a two-step calculation. First, you have to determine what percentage of the total net assets the surviving spouse receives. Second, you have to determine the amount of the elective share, based on the percentage calculated in step one.

Let’s take this step-by-step. The North Carolina legislature has determined that the percentage of the total net assets should vary based on the length of the marriage. Thus, the longer the marriage, the higher the percentage of the total net assets. The below chart shows the percentages, based on the statutory language in N.C.G.S. §30-3.1:

 

Number of Years Married Share of the Total Net Assets
Less than five years 15%
At least five years, but less than ten years 25%
At least ten years, but less than 15 years 33%
15 years or more 50%

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13062458_1042739802458603_2436945721037467362_nBy: Dana M. Horlick, Attorney, Woodruff Family Law Group

 

Now that we have the details and definitions out of the way, we can return to our Greensboro couple Rocky and Petunia and take a look at what happens to Petunia’s estate. Recall that Petunia died without a premarital agreement, without children, and without a will. Since Petunia died without a will, this means that she has died intestate, and her property will pass via intestacy, with Rocky as the administrator of her estate. Also recall that Petunia died with an interest in Home Grown Lawn Care worth $125,000.00 and a 401(k) worth $15,000.00, of which Rocky is the beneficiary. Also, Petunia died in a car accident five years into the marriage – this will be important later on.

Without a will, the share of the surviving spouse is governed by statute. There are other factors to consider, though, namely is the decedent (Petunia) survived by any children or her parents? The presence of either surviving children or parents reduces the share of the surviving spouse under the statute. In this case, there are no children, but her parents survive Petunia.

N.C.G.S. §29-14 (a)(3), provides for the surviving spouse’s share of   the real property as follows: “If the intestate is not survived by a child, children or any lineal descendant of a deceased child or children, but is survived by one or more parents, a one-half undivided interest in the real property.” Based on those facts, and the statute, Rocky gets ½ undivided interest in the real property. Under the facts of our hypothetical, there is no real property, meaning that Rocky gets ½ of nothing. If for example, Petunia owned a parcel of land, Rocky would get ½ of that parcel, and her parents would get the remaining half.

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