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Division of retirement benefits can't be changed in QDRO - QDRO must comply with the decree

The Dallas Court of Appeals recently decided a case regarding the provisions of a retirement award and entry of a QDRO. In that case, husband worked for his employer for 20 years, all of which occurred during the marriage. The divorce decree provided that wife received % award of the retirement benefits. QDRO was entered concurrently with the divorce decree, specifying that the wife was to be named as and treated as the surviving spouse of husband for purposes of the retirement benefits, giving her a surviving spouse annuity.

When husband approached retirement, he learned from his company that, because wife was named as his surviving spouse in the prior QDRO, he was required to choose an annuity option that provided for Wife to receive a benefit after his death. The cost of the survivor benefit reduced the monthly benefit husband would otherwise receive. Husband also could not name his current spouse as his surviving spouse for purposes of receiving a benefit after his death.

Husband filed a motion to vacate the prior QDRO because it failed to comply with the terms of the decree. The divorce decree was silent as to the survivor benefits, so husband argued that the QDRO improperly included it. The trial court agreed with husband and entered a new QDRO stating that wife was not husband’s surviving spouse etc. The Dallas Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court because the QDRO must comply with the terms of the decree. Because the decree did not award wife the surviving spouse annuity specifically, the prior QDRO’s award was improper and must be vacated. The new QDRO entered by the trial court was proper.

Beshears v. Beshears, ___ S.W.3d ___, 2014 WL 345651 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, no pet. h.) (1/30/14).