Lawyer Did Not Commit Wrongdoing on Benefits Dispute

January 14, 2008 ( - Even though a divorce decree reflected a bad address for a life insurance plan participant's ex-wife, the document still represented a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), a federal appellate court ruled.

Circuit Judge Richard Allen Griffin, who wrote the opinion for the 6 th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asserted that because the divorce decree qualified as a QDRO under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Patricia E. Mattingly, the ex-wife, deserved the money on behalf of the couple’s son. The fact that the divorce document included Patricia E. Mattingly’s mailing address and not what she said was her actual residence did not run afoul of ERISA dictates, the court said.

The 6 th Circuit determined the ex-wife’s attorney was not guilty of legal malpractice for failing to obtain a QDRO as part of her divorce from Joseph Mattingly.Griffin ‘s decision upheld a lower court ruling clearing lawyer William Lacy Hoge III of wrongdoing in the case.

According to the ruling, there had been a settlement of a dispute over the $116,258 in insurance benefits between Patricia Mattingly and Joseph Mattingly’s widow, Anita Mattingly. The key issue before the trial court and before the 6 th Circuit was Hoge’s conduct on behalf of Patricia Mattingly.

In rejecting Patricia Mattingly’s argument that the document did not represent a QDRO and therefore, Hoge was guilty of legal wrongdoing in representing her, the appellate judges noted she had not argued that she lived anywhere else during the 18-month period.

“[A] tribunal can only provide the most accurate address it is given. It cannot be asked to definitively guarantee that the beneficiary will reside at the same address and receive any and all mailings sent to the location in the decree. To require such is to demand clairvoyance on the part of the state court,” the appeals court said.

The 6th Circuit ruling is here .