Spouse Was Not Equitably Estopped from Relying on Date of Dissolution Decree as Valuation Date for Retirement Benefit – Published Opinion from Kentucky Court of Appeals

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Tager v. Tager

Circuit Court referred disputed issue in a dissolution action, including division of marital assets, to Domestic Relations Commissioner (“DRC”). DRC issued a report finding Husband qualified for military retirement benefits, which the parties stipulated were partially marital. Circuit Court adopted DRC’s report and issued a limited decree of dissolution, which did not provide for division of Husband’s retirement plan. Eleven years later, Wife moved to restore the matter to Circuit Court’s active docket to address the retirement benefits. Circuit Court found the retirement benefits to be subject to division and referred the matter to DRC for drafting a qualified domestic relations order (“QDRO”). The QDRO provided a valuation date for when the QDRO was completed.

 

Wife moved to alter, amend, or vacate, arguing that the valuation date should be the date of the dissolution, thirteen years earlier. Husband argued that Wife was estopped from claiming the earlier valuation date due to her long delay in seeking division of the plan. Circuit Court entered an amended QDRO providing a valuation date as of the date of dissolution. Husband appealed, arguing Wife should be estopped from relying on the date of the dissolution decree as the valuation date due to her long delay in seeking a formal order dividing the retirement benefits.

 

The Court of Appeals held that Wife was not estopped and that Circuit Court did not err by directing the retirement be valued as of the date of decree of dissolution. It listed the elements of equitable estoppel as “(1) [c]onduct, including acts, language and silence, amounting to a representation or concealment of material facts; (2) the estopped party is aware of these facts; (3) these facts are unknown to the other party; (4) the estopped party must act with the intention or expectation his conduct will be acted upon; and (5) the other party in fact relied on this conduct to his detriment[,]” citing Hinshaw v. Hinshaw, 237 S.W.3d 170 (Ky. 2007). It then reasoned that Husband did not meet the elements, because he did not argue (1) that he relied on Wife’s silence to conclude she was no longer making a claim to the retirement benefits; (2) that he was unfairly prejudiced by the delay, such as making withdrawals from the benefits in reliance on the lack of an order of division; or (3) that Wife will obtain a greater benefit than she would be entitled if the court had entered the QDRO earlier.

 

Digested by Nathan R. Hardymon