The Michigan Court of Appeals decided an interesting case on February 27, 2007. There are some practice pointers here for Michigan lawyers.
Husband challenged the trial court’s entry of a qualified domestic relations order ("QDRO") awarding Wife 50 percent of any early retirement benefits the defendant-husband might receive under his employer’s pension plan years after the Judgment of Divorce was entered (pre-Quade). The original JOD had not awarded Wife any of the separate and distinct components of the pension such as early retirement supplements. Husband, relying upon Quade, claimed that because the separate and distinct components of his pension plans were not specifically awarded in a judgment of divorce, they could not be included in a QDRO But the COA held that because the trial court also ordered the entry of an amended judgment of divorce specifying the plaintiff was to receive 50 percent of each component, the QDRO was proper as was division of the separate components. The COA cited MCR 2.612(A)(1), stating that the trial court had the power to correct clerical mistakes in judgments, orders, or other parts of the record as well as errors arising from oversight or omission.
What this meant for the wife was that valuable benefits of the defined benefit pension plan that might have been foreclosed to her were opened up because the trial court entered the amended judgment of divorce--rather than entered a modified QDRO.
Bob Treat of QDRO Express LLC in Woodhaven, Michigan, took my idea one step farther by explaining what I mean by a "practice pointer". He said in a post to the Family Law Listserv:
"It's encouraging to have a Mich App case specifically holding that the trial court can clarify its own dispositional ruling, and order an amended Judgment that accurately describes such clarified ruling, such amended judgment to more fully describe, in this case, the various components of pension benefits to be divided.
"Theory/Discussion Point: I note that Erway was decided post-Quade. Lee v. Lee, Mich App 246183, Unpublished, April 8, 2004, is probably most notable case for similar fact patterns in cases decided pre-Quade. In Lee, the plan participant's counsel drafted a QDRO assigning survivor benefits and early retirement benefits, and two attempted QDROs including such benefits were signed by both sides and entered in court. The participant appealed, challenging the award of survivor benefits and early retirement benefits, as they were not in the JOD. The COA relied on Roth and Quade, and held for the participant. Now, if we apply the theory in Erway, there might be a practice tip to be had. In Lee, the trial court actually held that the QDROs reflected the intent of the parties, but the COA reversed and pointed to Roth and Quade. What if we change the fact pattern in Lee, and instead of simply getting the QDRO entered with survivor benefits and early retirement benefits, the Court had been asked to amend the Judgment in addition to entering a QDRO with the survivor benefits and early retirement benefits? Erway says the trial court can do that, at least as to this fact pattern. It seems the outcome in Lee would have been different, and survivor benefits and early retirement benefits would have been divided. "