Pension Plan Payout May Change With QDRO

January 15, 2003 ( - A state court may amend a domestic relations order (DRO) so that a pension plan can provide survivor pension benefits to the plan participant's ex-wife rather than to his widow, the Supreme Court of Hawaii held.

The island high court, in Torres v Torres, found that ERISA does not prohibit changing the order to fit the requirements of a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) under a pension plan. Even though the widow of the pension plan participant had argued that her rights to surviving spouse benefits vested on the date her husband would have retroactively received benefits or in this case, when he died.

In the case, the court found an amended DRO following a participant’s death might not be a valid QDRO, but only if it would require the plan to pay increased benefits beyond those it was obligated to pay upon death.   However, in this case, the reasoning is not applicable because the DRO did not require the plan to pay increased benefits in comparison to its obligation when the husband died, the court ruled.