Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Alice Guerrero and Daniel Guerra were divorced in January 1984. At the time, each spouse was awarded a share of the other spouse’s retirement benefits to be calculated according to a set formula in the divorce decree. The formula’s calculation required: 1. dividing the number of months the parties were married while Guerrero was employed at Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. by the number of months Guerrero was employed by SBC; 2. multiplying that quotient by the retirement pay received by Guerrero; and 3. then multiplying that product by 50 percent. The decree does not specify whether the fraction’s denominator is the number of months employed by SBC at the time of retirement or at the time of divorce. The formula set forth in the decree also provides for an adjustment to the amount of retirement pay received by Guerrero based on the “after-acquired property theory,” but does not define the theory or how it is to be applied in calculating the benefits. In February 2001, Guerrero filed a motion to clarify the exact amount her ex-husband was entitled to receive of her SBC Communications retirement benefits. Testimony was taken from the former couple about each of their intent, and a CPA testified as to the scope of the benefits. Upon Guerra’s motion to enter a clarification order and qualified domestic relations order, the trial court found the decree’s retirement formula was ambiguous and awarded Guerra a 24.69 percent share of the total benefits received by Guerrero at the time of her retirement. On appeal, Guerrero does not challenge the percentage that Guerra was awarded. Instead, she argues the trial court should have calculated that percentage as of the date the parties divorced, not the date on which she retired. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court decides that, based on the contradictory language regarding valuation of the retirement benefits, the decree is ambiguous. Also, the decree does not define the “after-acquired property” theory or clearly explain its application. Therefore, it was proper for the trial court to enter a clarifying order, which it would not have been allowed to do if the decree was unambiguous. The court then examines whether the interpretation arrived at by the trial court is supported by the record. Here, the trial court found that Guerra’s share of the SBC retirement pay is “24.69 % of the totality of the SBC retirement pay received by . . . Guerrero in whatever form received by her.” The court then calculated Guerra’s share as 24.69 percent of the total benefit amounts received by Guerrero upon her retirement. Guerra’s testimony as to his understanding of the decree, and the language of the decree itself, support the trial court’s finding. The court points out that, if the parties had wished to limit the valuation of the retirement benefits by changing the fraction’s denominator to the number of months Guerrero was employed at SBC at the time of divorce, they could have, but they did not. OPINION:Phylis J. Speedlin, J.; Alma L. L�pez, C.J., Stone and Speedlin, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.