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Jonjak v. Griffith

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

April 12, 2019

Eric Jonjak, Appellant
v.
Kathye Marlene Griffith, Appellee

          FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY, 98TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT NO. D-1-FM-15-003489, HONORABLE GISELA D. TRIANA, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Smith Modified and, as Modified

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Edward Smith, Justice

         Eric Jonjak appeals from a divorce decree dissolving his marriage to Kathye Marlene Griffith and dividing their marital property. Jonjak asserts the decree divides Jonjak's retirement account contrary to the terms of the parties' mediated settlement agreement (MSA). Jonjak also challenges a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) implementing that division. We will modify the decree and the QDRO and affirm as modified.

         BACKGROUND

         Jonjak filed for divorce from Griffith in 2015 on the grounds of insupportability. On June 1, 2017, the parties signed an MSA dividing most of their marital property. In relevant part, the MSA states Griffith "will receive $962, 000 from the Bog Farm Profit Sharing 401k, which is 53% of the value of the account as represented by [Jonjak] on the day of the mediation via QDRO prepared by [Jonjak]." The following day, the parties appeared before a district court and announced the agreement. The district court pronounced the divorce and instructed Jonjak to prepare a decree consistent with the MSA.

         Approximately six months later, both parties filed their own motions to enter judgment, each accompanied by a proposed divorce decree and QDRO. Jonjak's proposed decree awards Griffith $962, 000 from his 401k account via QDRO. In contrast, Griffith's proposed decree awards her 53% of Jonjak's 401k account as of June 1, 2017, "together with any interest, dividends, gains, or losses on that amount arising since that date" to be "more particularly defined" in a QDRO.

         The district court held a hearing on the competing motions where the parties contested whether the MSA divided the 401k on the date of the mediation or when the court signed a QDRO implementing the division. See Quijano v. Quijano, 347 S.W.3d 345, 353-54 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2011, no pet.) ("The purpose of a QDRO is to create or recognize an alternate payee's right, or to assign an alternate payee the right, to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under a retirement plan."). The district court ruled that Griffith "gets $962, 000 as of June 1st, 2017, which is the date of the-the date of the mediation." The district court then signed Griffith's proposed decree and QDRO after striking certain language. The decree awards Griffith:

A portion of Eric Jonjak's retirement benefits in Bog Farm Profit Sharing 401k Acct. No. 803508-00000 arising out of ERIC JONJAK'S employment with Bog Farm as of June 1, 2017, that portion being 53 percent or $962, 000, whichever is greater, together with any interest, dividends, gains, or losses on that amount arising since that date and more particularly defined in a set [sic] out in the Qualified Domestic Relations Order signed by the Court in this case.

         Jonjak filed a timely motion for new trial arguing the district court erred by making the division effective June 1, 2017. He further argued that awarding Griffith "interest, dividends, gains, or losses" on the $962, 000 was inconsistent with the MSA, which awarded the specific sum only. The district court issued findings and conclusions explaining why the parties intended to divide the 401k on June 1, 2017, but did not address the award of "interest, dividends, gains, or losses." Jonjak's motion for new trial was overruled by operation of law. This appeal followed.

         The plan administrator of the 401k account subsequently determined the order did not meet the statutory requirements of a QDRO.[1] The district court then signed a modified QDRO with substantially the same relevant language as the first.[2] Paragraph 2 provides that Griffith:

shall be entitled to an interest in the [Bog Farm Profit-Sharing 401k] Plan equal to $962, 000 of [Jonjak's] Vested Account Balance under the Plan as of the date of transfer, which is June 1, 2017. [Griffith's] interest in the Plan shall be adjusted for investment earnings and losses allocable thereto in accordance with the terms of the Plan thereafter. [Griffith] shall be permitted to make any elections regarding the form of payment which would be available to a Participant receiving the same payment. Once the benefits assigned to [Griffith] hereunder have been disbursed, [Griffith] shall have no further interest of any kind whatsoever in the remaining balance of [Jonjak's] account(s) under the Plan.

         We treat Jonjak's appeal as challenging this QDRO. See Tex. R. App. P. 27.3 (providing that when trial court replaces or modifies order that has been appealed, "the appellate court must treat the ...


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