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King v. King

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

January 31, 2017


          Session December 14, 2016

         Appeal from the Chancery Court for Knox County No. 126512-2 Clarence E. Pridemore, Jr., Chancellor

         This appeal involves a 1997 divorce judgment that awarded the wife a percentage of the husband's federal retirement annuity. The parties entered into a settlement agreement, later incorporated into a judgment, which provided that the wife would receive one-half of the marital portion of the husband's retirement. The 1997 judgment contained no provisions regarding salary adjustments or cost-of-living adjustments applicable to the retirement annuity. In 2008, the husband's attorney filed and the trial court entered a "Court Order Acceptable for Processing, " which provided for the wife's fractional share of the husband's retirement annuity but made no mention of salary adjustments applicable thereto. This order did provide, however, that the wife would be entitled to cost-of-living adjustments. Following his retirement in 2015, the husband filed a motion in 2016 seeking relief from the trial court's prior final orders pursuant to Tennessee Rule of Civil Procedure 60. The trial court granted the motion, determining that the relief sought merely "clarified" but did not modify the earlier orders. The wife has appealed. We conclude that the trial court impermissibly granted relief to the husband pursuant to Rule 60.01, which had the effect of modifying the parties' settlement agreement and the court's prior orders. We therefore vacate the trial court's order granting Rule 60 relief.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery Court Vacated; Case Remanded

          Mark R. Orr, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Kathaleen Moriarty King.

          John A. Lucas, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Hal David King.

          Thomas R. Frierson, II, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which D. Michael Swiney, C.J., and John W. McClarty, J., joined.



         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         This appeal involves issues regarding the interpretation and enforcement of a divorce judgment entered in 1997. Kathaleen Moriarty King ("Wife") and Hal David King ("Husband") were divorced in Knox County Chancery Court on October 17, 1997, after approximately seventeen years of marriage. Both prior to and during the marriage, Husband was a federal employee with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Husband had maintained his federal employment for 252 months at the time of the divorce, with 216 months of Husband's federal employment occurring during the marriage.

         At the time of the divorce, the parties reached a settlement agreement that was announced in open court and later incorporated into their final judgment of divorce. As part of that agreement, the final judgment provided in pertinent part:

[Wife] shall be entitled to participate in [Husband's] retirement program with Civil Service Retirement System which he is entitled to as a federal employee. [Wife] shall be awarded one-half (1/2) of 18/21st of the amount he has accrued as of the 4th day of August 1997. This amount would be available to her at any time the Civil Service Retirement System allows or at his retirement and there shall be a separate Court Order affecting retirement benefits which shall be prepared and submitted to the Court in the immediate future.

         The final judgment did not contain any other provisions regarding Husband's federal retirement annuity and did not specifically address salary or cost-of-living adjustments applicable to same.

         In 2008, Husband's attorney filed a "Court Order Acceptable for Processing, " which the trial court entered on August 26, 2008. This order provided that it was "for the specific purpose of entering an order dividing the Defendant's Civil Service Retirement System retirement interests in a manner consistent with the Final Judgment for Divorce and the Office of Personnel Management regulations." In relevant portion, the 2008 order states:

1. The court has considered the requirements and standard terminology provided in part 838 of Title 5, Code of Federal Regulations.[1] The terminology used in the provisions of this order that concern benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System Retirement are governed by the standard conventions established in that part.
* * *
4. Employee is eligible for retirement benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System based on employment with the United States Government. Former Spouse is entitled to a share of Employee's gross monthly annuity under the Civil Service Retirement System to be computed as follows: Former Spouse shall be awarded one-half (1/2) of eighteen/twentifirsts (18/21) of the amount Employee had accrued as of the 4th day of August 1997. When COLA's are applied to Employee's retirement benefits, the same COLA applies to Former Spouse's share. The United States Office of Personnel Management is directed to pay Former Spouse's share directly to Former Spouse.
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8. Commencement Date and Form of Payment to Former Spouse: Former Spouse shall be entitled to receive monthly benefits under CSRS as of the earliest date on which the Employee commences benefits under CSRS.
9. Continued Qualified Status of Order: It is the intention of the parties that this Order continue to qualify as an Order under 5 CFR Pt. 838, as it may be amended from time to time.

         Husband retired from his employment in July 2015. On June 10, 2016, Husband filed a motion pursuant to Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure 60.01 and 60.02(5), asking the trial court to amend the 1997 divorce judgment by adding verbiage that would exclude the application of any post-1997 cost-of-living or salary adjustments to Wife's share of his federal retirement annuity. Husband asserted in the motion that upon his retirement, he initially received documentation from the federal Office of Personnel Management ("OPM"), which stated that he would receive monthly benefits of $3, 402 and Wife would receive monthly benefits of $1, 042. According to Husband's motion, Husband received a subsequent notice in May 2016, stating that the benefits had been recalculated such that Wife's monthly benefit would increase to $2, 355 and Husband's monthly benefit would be decreased to $2, 052. As Husband asserts in his concomitantly filed memorandum of law, the recalculation was caused by the lack of specific language in the final decree that instructed OPM not to include cost-of-living or salary adjustments following the date of the divorce decree. See 5 C.F.R. § 838.622.

         Wife filed a response to Husband's motion, wherein she asserted that the respective language of the 1997 decree and 2008 order was clear and unambiguous. Wife also argued that "the language being proposed by [Husband] was not included in the Final Judgment because it was not the intent or understanding of the parties ...

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