As if there are not enough reasons for a woman to dislike her husband’s ex-wife, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently gave Pauline Ruff one more good reason. In Ruff v Ruff, 2014 WL 3704903 (July 24, 2014), the court awarded the pension benefits of Pauline’s late husband to be paid to his ex-wife.
In this case, the trial court originally awarded the pension benefits to Pauline, finding that a provision of the divorce order precluded the ex-wife from receiving her former husband’s pension benefits. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the lower court decision and remanded for dismissal of Pauline’s case. The appellate court’s opinion turned on the language in the divorce judgment and the definition of “Eligible Surviving Spouse” under the late Mr. Ruff’s pension plan.
The pension fund defined “Eligible Surviving Spouse” as “the person who was married to the Retired Employee Participant for at least one (1) year on his date of Retirement if she is still alive at the date of his death, or, if no such person exists, the person who was married to the Retired Employee Participant for at least one (1) year on the date of his death.” Because Mr. Ruff’s ex-wife was married to him (and had been for more than one year) when he retired in 1989, she, rather than Pauline met the definition of “Eligible Surviving Spouse.”
Notably, Mr. Ruff did change his beneficiary designation, electing Pauline as the beneficiary of “any death benefits” from the pension fund. While Pauline received certain death benefits, she was denied the monthly surviving spouse benefit that would have paid her $521.08 per month until her death. Instead, the pension fund paid the monthly benefit to the ex-wife.
The divorce judgment stated that each party was to be individually awarded “his or her own interest” that either party may have in “any pension” or other retirement plans. Because the language of the divorce judgment explicitly stated that the interest could be in “any” pension or retirement plan, the court determined that each individual spouse’s interest was not limited to his or her respective retirement plan. Thus, the Eligible Surviving Spouse benefit was the ex-wife’s interest, albeit in her ex-husband’s pension plan.
News and blog articles presented in this website are distributed for general information purposes only with the understanding that the author, publisher and distributor of articles is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinions on specific facts or matters and, accordingly, GGTM assumes no liability whatsoever in connection with the use of any article. Pursuant to applicable rules of professional conduct, this communication may constitute Attorney Advertising.