Alaska Supreme Court Approves Domestic Partner QDRO
Relying on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in Owens v. Auto Machinists Pension Trust, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in Boulds v. Nielsen that the benefits payable from an ERISA-covered defined benefit plan can be divided between domestic partners as “marital property” pursuant to a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO).
In order to reach the conclusion that Ms. Nielsen was Mr. Boulds’ “other dependent” alternate payee, the court relied on the following facts:
- The couple held themselves out to the public as married (they wore engagement and wedding rings at various times during their 16-year relationship).
- Mr. Boulds claimed Ms. Nielsen as a dependent on his taxes for at least some of the years they were together.
- Ms. Nielsen stayed at home and raised their children, while Mr. Boulds financially supported the family.
- Mr. Boulds listed Ms. Nielsen as the beneficiary of his pension plan benefits (even though he was later told she could not be his beneficiary because she was not his spouse).
- The couple had a “common goal” of using the pension plan benefits to help raise their children.
It is important to note that in both of these cases, state law (Alaska and Washington) recognizes “quasi-marital relationships” for purposes of dividing property. Therefore, you may not get the same result in a state that does not recognize quasi-marital relationships, such as domestic partnerships or civil unions.
Ronald Triche is ASPPA's Associate General Counsel & Director of Government Affairs.