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Ward v. Ward

Decided: December 12, 1978.

DOROTHY WARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JAMES N. WARD, DEFENDANT



Yaccarino, J.s.c.

Yaccarino

[164 NJSuper Page 356] The issue presented to the court by the facts of this case is one which has not been the subject

of a reported decision in the jurisdiction, but one which has far-reaching effects upon matrimonial actions. Simply stated, the issue is whether the United States Congress intended that the antialienation provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, P.L. 93-406, 88 Stat. 832, 29 U.S.C.A. § 1001 et seq. (ERISA), should protect a pensioner from a state court decree directing the trustees of his pension plan to pay over certain amounts of his pension to satisfy family support obligations.

The material facts may be stated as follows. By final judgment of the Chancery Division, Monmouth County, dated September 21, 1975, the marriage between plaintiff Dorothy Ward and defendant James Ward was dissolved. As part of that final judgment defendant was ordered to pay to plaintiff the sum of $150 a week for alimony and support, plus the costs and counsel fees incurred by plaintiff in the divorce proceedings. Defendant failed in his legal duty to support and maintain plaintiff, and on October 24, 1977 this court entered a judgment on arrears, counsel fees and costs. Defendant has failed to satisfy the judgment and the arrears have continued to accumulate since that time.

Defendant was an employee of the Western Electric Company and a member of the company's plan for employees' pensions, disability and death benefits. The Western Electric plan is administered by Citibank, N.A., through a trust agreement. On December 31, 1975 defendant retired from Western Electric and he is currently receiving monthly retirement benefits from that company's plan in the amount of $732.79. These monthly benefits are paid directly to defendant by Citibank, N.A., from the Western Electric Pension Trust Fund.

Plaintiff brings the motion pursuant to R. 1:10-5 against defendant James N. Ward, joining James E. Fanning, the benefit administrator of the Western Electric Plan and First National City Bank, the administrator of the plan. Plaintiff seeks an order pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.1 et seq. requiring the Western Electric Company and the

trustees of the pension plan to withhold defendant's monthly pension benefits and pay such benefits directly to plaintiff to be applied to the judgment for divorce, the judgment for arrearages, alimony and counsel fees.

The Secretaries of Labor and the Treasury have been charged by Congress with the coordinate responsibility for administering the provisions of ERISA, 29 U.S.C.A. § 1204. ERISA establishes a comprehensive program of federal regulation of private employee benefit plans, including requirements for disclosure, vesting, funding and fiduciary conduct.

This case involves primarily the construction of ERISA's anti-alienation provisions -- P.L. 93-406, 88 Stat. 829, §§ 206(d) and 1021(c), 29 U.S.C.A. § 1056(d)(1) and 26 U.S.C.A. § 401(a)(13), which generally seek to protect an employee's pension benefits from any assignment alienation or attachment.*fn1

As the legislative history indicates, these provisions are designed to advance the important public policy of "ensure that the employee's accrued benefits are actually available for retirement purposes." H.R. Rep. No. 93-807, 93rd Cong. 2d Sess. 68-69 (1974), U.S. Code Cong. & Admin. News 1974, pp. 4639, 4734.

A literal interpretation of 29 U.S.C.A. § 1056 would not preclude an involuntary diversion of pension benefits by the process of levy and execution. However, it is clear from the legislative history of this section that in addition to voluntary assignments, Congress also intended to prohibit certain involuntary ...


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