Ex-Wife Not Entitled to Disability Benefits Rules PA High Court

September 12, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a man's disability benefits are not pension benefits his ex-wife is entitled to per their property settlement.

The property settlement between Fred Cioffi and his ex-wife said that his wife would receive 60% of the husband’s pension interest accrued through March 1, 1990, from both the Teamsters Local Union and the Boilermaker’s Retirement Account, the Legal Intelligencer reports.   In the 2-1 court opinion, Senior Judge Patrick Tamilia points out that both plans make a distinction between disability retirement benefits and retirement age pension benefits, and ruled that the wife was not entitled to the disability retirement benefits according to the property settlement.

In her dissent, Judge Kate Ford Elliott said the court interpreted the property settlement agreement when there was no room for interpretation, according to the Legal Intelligencer.   She said there is no language that differentiates between the types of pension plans offered by Teamsters and Boilermakers in the property settlement agreement.

In its decision the PA Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling granting ongoing and past benefits to Cioffi.   In 1999,  Cioffi began receiving the disability benefits from both plans without his ex-wife’s knowledge and specifically noted on the application for the Boilermaker plan that he was not bound by any domestic relations order that would affect those benefits, the Legal Intelligencer reports.

The husband owed the wife $17,061.88 for the Boilermaker plan and $50,880.00 for the Teamsters plan, according to the trial court opinion.   The Legal Intelligencer reports that the trial court ordered the husband to begin payment on September 1, 2004 of 60% of future benefits under both plans, plus an additional 15% to reimburse the wife for the benefits he owed her for prior benefits received.

The Supreme Court’s opinion inCioffi v. Cioffi reversed and remanded the trial court’s ruling.