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Husband violated PSA, must buy annuity

A wife wins her appeal and attorney’s fees after her husband violated their PSA by failing to name her as a beneficiary of his military survivor benefit plan, the Virginia Court of Appeals said today.

Its decision in Nelson v. Nelson was one of three divorce cases decided today by unpublished opinion.

A Fairfax Circuit Court held Eric Nelson in contempt for his failure to name Elizabeth Nelson as a beneficiary, as required under the parties’ property settlement agreement in their 1987 divorce decree. The husband remarried and his second spouse apparently became beneficiary after the husband retired from the Air Force.

The trial court held him in contempt and ordered him to pay wife $16,367 in attorney’s fees, $1,850 in expert witness fees and $48,529 in unpaid military retirement pay, including interest. The court also ordered the husband to provide an annuity to wife of $383,227, payable on his death, for her lost stake in the survivor benefit plan. The pro se husband’s only objection to the ruling was to write on the order “Seen and Objected to. I do not have the funds to pay for the $383,226.70 annuity.”

Not good enough, said the appellate panel, who also found a waiver in the husband’s failure to timely file a transcript. The panel upheld the decision and said the wife was entitled to attorney’s fees and costs on appeal.

In a second case, the appellate court rejected a husband’s claim that his lawyer wife’s bill to a client for one and one-half hours, instead of the four hours they spent together, supported the husband’s claim the client was the wife’s paramour. The trial court found the husband’s “acts of physical abuse” justified the wife leaving the marital home, but ultimately granted a no-fault divorce and denied the husband’s request for spousal support.

The wife in Jordan v. Jordan declined to discuss specifics of some conversations with her client, citing both attorney-client privilege and a Fifth Amendment privilege. Evidence proffered by the husband did not refute the wife’s credible explanations for conduct her husband found suspicious, the appellate panel said.

“Wife explained her numerous invocations of attorney/client privilege stemmed from her advocacy of her alleged paramour’s business interests as the attorney for his company,” the panel said. The court did not directly consider the wife’s assertions of privilege because the husband did not get a trial court ruling on the issue.

Finally, in Cid v. Cid, the appellate court said a husband could not get a reduction in his $1,500 monthly spousal support obligation because his substance-abuse business had lost some lucrative contracts. A reduction in income doesn’t automatically translate into a reduction in ability to pay, the court reasoned.
–Deborah Elkins

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