Ex-Wife’s Delay in Pursuing a QDRO Cost Her a Share of Ex-Husband’s Pension Benefits

The recent case of Richardson-Roy, Marva Jane v. Abigail Johnson (2016, CA3) 2016 WL 4088732 in the Third Circuit Court highlights the importance of timely submitting your QDRO to the Court and to the Plan after your divorce.

In this case, the ex-wife’s attempt to institute a QDRO two months after the participant (her ex-husband) had died was denied by the plan administrator (Fidelity) several times.  The Plan Administrator (Fidelity) advised the ex-wife in writing that it had determined that the QDRO could not be qualified as drafted. The letter explained that the ex-husband’s benefit had terminated with his death and the post-retirement survivor annuity that had vested in the participant’s subsequent spouse could not be reassigned.  The lesson is to not delay getting your QDRO entered, or you might lose the benefit entirely.

In addition, in this case the ex wife was barred by the one-year statute of limitations from prosecuting an action for benefits under ERISA (which was her attempt to get around the denial of the QDRO). While ERISA does not have it’s own statue of limitations regarding benefits claims, federal courts can apply similar limitation periods in the relevant state to ascertain if the claim has been brought in a timely matter.  In this case, the Third Circuit court determined a one-year limitation period, referencing the Delaware law for employment disputes, applied.

The court determined that the ex-wife’s claim for benefits accrued when she was first notified by Fidelity on April 21, 2010 that her claim had been denied.  Even if one considered the ex-wife’s claim to accrue on January 17, 2013 (the date of Fidelity’s last letter confirming that her claim was denied), the ex-wife’s pro se action would still have been 2 months past the end of the limitations period, since her ERISA action was not filed until March 24, 2014.