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February 17, 2012

COA Opinion: Qualified Domestic Relations Order entered after divorce judgment is part of judgment and cannot be substantively modified 14 years later

In 2009, the plaintiff sought to amend a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) with respect to allocation of the defendant's retirement benefits. The QDRO had been entered on March 14, 1995, after a judgment of divorce was entered on November 14, 1994. In Neville v. Neville, the Court of Appeals concluded that because the divorce judgment required entry of the QDRO, the two documents should be treated as one judgment. Thus, the motion brought in 2009, which sought to make substantive changes to the QDRO, was time-barred under MCR 2.612. The Court of Appeals also considered whether the trial court's modifications of the QDRO could be considered clarification or interpretation of the QDRO, to which the time limitations of MCR 2.612 would not apply. But the court concluded that the trial court's attempt to craft a formula for the plaintiff's share of the defendant's retirement benefits that differed from the QDRO affected substantive rights, and therefore, the motion was time-barred. Finally, the court concluded that to the extent the QDRO modified the divorce judgment, the QDRO was controlling, because it was entered after the divorce judgment and reflected the parties' agreement. The parties were free to modify the terms of their property settlement when approving the QDRO.

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