Cadena v. Fries

Cadena v. Fries, 2015 MT 90 (March 24, 2015) (Wheat, J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: (1) Whether the district court properly valued Fries’ pension plan in the QDRO; and (2) whether Cadena is entitled to attorneys’ fees on appeal.

Short Answer: (1) Yes, the time rule approach; and (2) yes.

Affirmed

Facts: In their settlement agreement of dissolution in 2000, Cadena and Fries agreed that Fries’ pension would be equally divided between them as of the date of the dissolution. Cadena filed a QDRO in November 2013. The pension had not fully vested or begun paying. Fries objected to Cadena’s QDRO and submitted his own.

Procedural Posture & Holding: The district court issued a QDRO identical to Cadena’s. Fries appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: (1) The language of the settlement agreement as adopted by the final dissolution order controls the division of the pension. The parties agree each is entitled to half of the pension’s value at the time of dissolution, and that they will receive payments over time once benefits payments begin. Where spouses will each receive a portion of anticipated monthly payments that have not yet begun, the Court requires the use of the time rule method, which divides future monthly payments in proportion tot the quotient of time employed during the marriage and total time employed before retirement.

(2) The district court decided not to award attorneys’ fees to either party, which both parties agree was an abuse of discretion. The settlement agreement requires that attorneys’ fees be awarded to the prevailing party. Cadena is the prevailing party at the district court, but she did not raise the issue in her cross-appeal. However, the Court can award attorneys’ fees on appeal, which it does, remanding to the district court for a determination of fees.