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Ex-wife of deceased NFL player can pursue pension benefits

The ex-wife of a deceased NFL player can pursue his pension benefits, according to the ruling of a federal judge in Massachusetts on April 18. A motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the ex-wife of a former New England Patriots player by the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Players Retirement Plan was denied by Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

Judge Woodlock, in his ruling, stated that the former player's ex-wife provided sufficient facts in order to state a possible claim for benefits under the provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The plaintiff's former husband played for the Patriots from 1978 to 1990 and passed away in 2010. The ex-wife is trying to acquire the pension benefits of her former husband.

The ruling by Judge Woodlock is of interest due to his discussion on posthumous qualified domestic relations orders. These orders are used in divorce cases for the division of retirement benefits and are typically changed upon the death of a participant. The couple divorced in 1997. The former player's ex-wife claims that the divorce decree said she was to receive a portion of her ex-husband's benefits.

A state court entered an order in 2012, two years after the former player's death, that directed a 2011 domestic relations order be applied to the case retroactively to 1997. The benefit plan of the NFL denied the claim from the state court, stating that the order asked for increased benefits.

In the ruling by Judge Woodlock he said that the issue would be resolved using dispositive motions. Because of this, Judge Woodlock noted he would have to review the divorce decree to figure out if the order considered the benefits.

The ruling from Judge Woodlock followed a ruling from 2005 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that said an ex-wife could acquire a revised state court order meeting ERISA requirements for enforcement of pension benefits conferred by a divorce decree.

Dividing a pension upon divorce can be a very complicated matter. Experienced attorneys can answer all of your questions and provide guidance in Oneida, New York.

Source: Bloomberg, "Ex-Wife Can Pursue Pension Claims Against NFL," Carmen Castro-Pagan, April 20, 2017

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