Participant's Ex-Wife Gets Surviving Spouse Benefits Under QDRO

June 22, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.COM) - A federal judge in Kentucky has ruled that a deceased retirement plan participant's ex-wife should get surviving spouse benefits although the participant had remarried before he passed away.

U.S. DistrictJudge Thomas B. Russell of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky said in his ruling that compliance with a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is mandatory and that the terms of the QDRO could only be overturned if they were ambiguous. The court did not find any ambiguity in Ford Motor Company employee Ronald Braehler’s QDRO, according to the opinion.

Braehler had named his first wife Paula Fleming in a QDRO as his surviving spouse, which entitled her to half of his retirement benefits. Ford’s plan included a lifetime benefit and a survivor benefit.  “Although the QDRO references Ms. Fleming’s treatment under the Plans as that of ‘a’ surviving spouse rather than ‘the’ surviving spouse, the Court does not find that this indicates that Ms. Fleming was to receive anything less than the full surviving spouse benefit,” Russell wrote in his order.

Braehler remarried after divorcing Fleming and later retired and designated his new wife as his surviving spouse under his qualified joint and survivor annuity. However, because of the QDRO, when Braehler passed away in 2004 the plan began paying Fleming the entire surviving spouse benefit.

According to the court, Braehler’s second wife eventually sued Ford Motor Company, claiming she was owed partial surviving spouse benefits.

The case is Braehler v. Ford Motor Co. UAW Retirement Plan,W.D. Ky., No. 3:06CV-306-R, 6/21/07.