High Court Affirms DuPont's Payment to Ex-wife

January 26, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that DuPont Co. was correct to pay a deceased worker's retirement benefits to his ex-wife even though she had agreed to give up her rights to the pension during divorce proceedings.

The court agreed with DuPont that under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) it had no choice but to follow deceased participant William Kennedy’s instructions on his original beneficiary designation form, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In August 2007, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that because a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) was never submitted to the plan when the participant and his wife divorced, she did not relinquish her interest in the participant’s savings and investment plan (SIP) benefits (see Benefit Award to Participant’s Ex-Wife Upheld under ERISA ). A QDRO was executed when the Kennedys divorced in 1994 and Liv Kennedy agreed to give up her rights to William’s retirement and pension plan benefits, but it was never submitted to DuPont.

William Kennedy’s estate sued and a lower court judge ruled in its favor, holding that under federal common law, Liv Kennedy had waived her right to the SIP benefits by executing a divorce decree.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision is here .