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U.S. Supreme Court

Court Accepts ERISA Case Involving Pension Rights After Divorce

Posted Feb 19, 2008 1:04 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide the validity of a divorcing spouse's waiver of a right to the other’s pension benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, SCOTUSblog reports.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled (PDF) in the case, Kennedy v. Plan Administrator, that the divorcing spouse’s waiver of rights in a divorce decree was not enforceable because federal requirements were not followed.

The North Texas Divorce & Family Law Blog reports on the usual process for dividing benefits governed by ERISA. To divide a retirement plan in divorce, a court approves a domestic relations order. Once the plan administrator approves the order, it becomes a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. No QDRO was signed in the Kennedy case.

The 5th Circuit ruled that the failure meant the employee’s ex-wife got his pension benefits after his death.

The Supreme Court agreed to decide the third question in the cert petition (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog), which asks whether a QDRO is the only valid way a divorcing spouse can waive her right to pension benefits.


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