Concluding that this case was nearly identical to Sweebe and compelled the same result, the court affirmed the trial court's order granting the plaintiff-PR (the decedent's daughter) summary disposition in this dispute over entitlement to the decedent's life insurance benefits.
The defendant was the decedent's ex-wife. She and the decedent were married in 2000. During their marriage the decedent completed a beneficiary designation form designating defendant as the primary beneficiary of a life insurance policy. They divorced in 2003 pursuant to a consent judgment signed by both parties and entered in the trial court. The decedent died in 2010 without having changed the beneficiary designation on the life insurance policy.
The court concluded that as in Sweebe, "defendant clearly and unequivocally waived her right to the decedent's life insurance benefits when she signed the consent judgment of divorce containing the waiver provision." By executing the consent judgment, she acknowledged and agreed that any right she had to the benefits was "extinguished." Thus, pursuant to the language of the provision, she was not entitled to retain the life insurance proceeds.
The court held that Defendant's argument that she and the decedent, through their words and deeds, modified the consent judgment in the years after their divorce lacked merit. The court noted that a consent judgment is in the nature of a contract, and in general, they "are final and binding upon the court and the parties, and cannot be modified absent fraud, mistake, or unconscionable advantage." There was no allegation of fraud, mistake, or unconscionable advantage.
Further, as recognized in Laffin, the consent judgment was binding not only on the parties, but also on the trial court. If defendant and the decedent intended to modify the consent judgment, they could have sought a modification of the consent judgment in the trial court after their divorce. It was undisputed that they failed to do so. They also "failed to take any other concrete, post-divorce affirmative action to designate defendant as the beneficiary. For example, the decedent could have simply redesignated her as the beneficiary. Absent any proactive, affirmative action in this regard, the trial court properly enforced the waiver provision in the consent judgment of divorce."
Read the case here: Download Partlow_v_Person
See also Sweebe v Sweebe Download Sweebe_v_Sweebe
And see Laffin v Laffin