In Griffin v. Griffin (1/28/14), the parties' separation agreement said that the children would be named beneficiaries of the husband's retirement plans. The couple was divorced and the husband remarried. Before he died, instead of designating the children as beneficiaries, he named his second wife. The trial court said that the divorce decree which incorporated the agreement was not a Qualified Domestic Relations Order and the retirement plan had no notice of its provisions and no duties to the intended beneficiaries.
But the Virginia Court of Appeals now says that a Qualified Domestic Relations Order may be made, even though the husband is dead. Virginia law lets Qualified Domestic Relations Orders be made, or amended, long after a divorce is final, for the limited purpose of effectually carrying out what was decided in a separation agreement or divorce decree. This is "merely an administrative mechanism" to enforce rights that have already vested under state law via the agreement and divorce decree.
Until now, the only remedy in such cases was against the second wife, not the retirement plan. The intended beneficiaries would have to sue her and ask a court to impose a "constructive trust" on the benefits she received from the plan.
A dissent points out that the decision goes against long and widespread precedent.