A court may order that life insurance be maintained to secure the payment of child or spousal support or the payout of a distributive award. It is not to be an award in an of itself. Its purpose is not to create an additional fund on the death of a party, but rather to secure that support and property payments contemplated by the divorce decree will be made, even on death.

Thus, in its June 20, 2014 decision in Marfone v. Marfone, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, modified the judgment of Oneida County Acting Supreme Court Justice Joan E. Shkane to reduce the required life insurance from $500,000.

We agree with defendant, however, that the amount of life insurance the court required defendant to maintain with respect to his child support obligations is excessive, and we therefore modify the amended judgment by reducing the amount of that life insurance from $500,000 to $300,000.

Domestic Relations Law §236B(8)(a) authorizes the use of life insurance to secure the divorce payments:

8. Special relief in matrimonial actions.
a. In any matrimonial action . . . the court may also order a party to purchase, maintain or assign a policy of . . . on the life of either spouse, and to designate in the case of life insurance, either spouse or children of the marriage . . . as irrevocable beneficiaries during a period of time fixed by the court. The obligation to provide such insurance shall cease upon the termination of the spouse’s duty to provide maintenance, child support or a distributive award.

Thus, insurance can be ordered to be maintained on the life of either party, to be owned by either party, naming either spouse or the children as irrevocable beneficiaries for a period no longer than the divorce decree payments.


Continue Reading The Divorce Life Insurance Trust

A spouse’s pre-divorce judgment death results in the unenforceablitity of divorce action orders, including the automatic orders mandated by Domestic Relations Law §236(B)(2)(b). As a result, Westchester County Supreme Court Justice Paul I. Marx held in his April 17, 2014 decision in A.V.B. v. D.B. that a husband was without a remedy for his wife removing the husband as a beneficiary of her retirment account and life insurance policy.

After 13 years of marriage and two children, the wife commenced this divorce action on September 12, 2012. Pursuant to stipulated Preliminary Conference Orders, it was agreed that the wife would be awarded the divorce on the grounds of irretrievable breakdown, an Attorney for the Child was appointed and the pre-trial schedule was fixed.

On April 22, 2013, the wife committed suicide. During the administration of her Estate, it was learned that on February 14, 2013, while the divorce action was pending, the wife had changed the named beneficiaries on her ING 403(b) account from her husband as her sole beneficiary to the parties’ two children as 50% primary beneficiaries. It was further discovered that on or about March 10, 2013, the wife changed her designation of the husband as the sole named beneficiary on her Prudential life insurance policy to the husband as a 1% primary beneficiary, the parties’ daughter K. as a 49% beneficiary and daughter R. as a 50% beneficiary.

The husband’s counsel then submitted a letter to Justice Marx with a proposed order directing that the named beneficiaries on the wife’s ING account and Prudential life insurance policy revert back to the date of the commencement of the action and directing ING and Prudential to pay out the balance in the wife’s annuity and the “death benefit” under her life insurance policy to the named beneficiaries that existed before the changes were made. At that time, the husband’s lawyer also submitted the supporting affirmation of the attorney for wife’s Estate, declaring that the Estate consented to the proposed order.

Justice Marx declined to sign the proposed order. Instead, the Court scheduled a conference at which the Court directed defense counsel to move by Order to Show Cause. Although no papers were submitted in response to that motion, Justice Marx nevertheless denied it. The relief sought in the motion was not warranted by the law, nor by a good faith extension of the law.

While it is regrettable that Plaintiff violated the automatic orders and seems to have reached beyond the grave to thwart Defendant’s efforts to recover his share of her assets, this Court is unable to remedy the violation in this proceeding.


Continue Reading Automatic Orders, Violated During Divorce Action, Cannot Be Enforced After Pre-Judgment Death

An ex-wife’s failure to obtain a Domestic Relations Order during her ex-husband’s lifetime did not bar relief after his death. The divorce settlement agreement provision that granted her the right to receive the ex-husband’s retirement plan death benefits could be enforced after his death more than seven years after the divorce judgment was entered.

Suchwas the holding of New York County Supreme Court Justice Debra A. James, in the August, 2013 decision in Paschall v. New York City Employees Retirement System.

After 20 years of marriage, Diana and Randy Paschall were divorced. Their 2004 divorce judgment incorporated the terms of their surviving 2003 Settlement Agreement.

By the time of his death in 2011, Mr. Paschall  had married again to Jewel Paschall. Jewel was issued letters of administration for Randy’s estate. She also exercised her personal right of election to take her elective share of her late husband’s estate pursuant to New York Estates, Powers & Trust Law 5-1.1-A.

During his  marriage to Diana, Mr. Paschall accrued benefits under the New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS). Diana and Randy’s divorce Settlement Agreement provided that in the event of Randy’s death before Diana, Diana would be entitled to Randy’s survivor annuity. The Agreement required Randy to designate Diana as his death benefit beneficiary.

Randy never designated Diana as his death benefit beneficiary. No Domestic Relations Order was ever entered by which Diana’s entitlement was ordered, nor was NYCERS otherwise notified of Diana’s entitlement before Randy’s death. Indeed, in 2009, Randy had designated his children as beneficiaries of his death benefit.

Here, Diana had sued Jewell and NYCERS, itself, seeking to enforce the Settlement Agreement insofar as it gave her rights to receive Randy’s retirement system death benefit.


Continue Reading Ex-Wife's Failure to Obtain DRO Before Ex-Husband's Death Not a Bar to Recovery of Retirement Plan Death Benefits