Opinions, May 14, 2015

The First District Court of Appeals issued its memorandum opinion in Stafford v. Stafford, No. 01-13-01060-CV (Tex.App.–Houston [1st Dist.] May 14, 2015) finding the trial court impermissibly modified the divorce decree instead of clarifying it. After 20 years of marriage, Linda and Charles divorced in 2000. Charles was a federal employee and in the agreed final decree, Linda was awarded 50% of his retirement benefits. Thirteen years after the divorce, Charles sought clarification of the decree, arguing that Linda was not entitled to post-divorce salary increases. The trial court agreed but the Court of Appeals did not, finding that the decree was unambiguous. Specifically, the decree stated, “benefits under the Federal Employees Retirement System are governed by the standard conventions established in Part 838 of Title 5 of the Code of Federal 7 Regulations.” Part 838 provides that a court order awarding a former spouse a percentage of an employee’s retirement benefits entitled the former spouse to salary adjustments unless the decree directly and unambiguously states otherwise. 5 C.F.R.  § 838.622(b)(1). Because there was nothing in the decree which contradicted the default rule, the default rule applied. The Court of Appeals found this to be “not merely a clarification of the decree” but a substantial alteration of the decree’s division of property. The judgment was reversed and remanded.

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