Kathleen O. Potts, Appellee,
Duane E. Potts, Appellant.
District Court, Ogden Department The Honorable Scott M.
Hadley No. 900902738
Pedrazas, Attorney for Appellant.
A. Bean, Attorney for Appellee.
David N. Mortensen authored this Opinion, in which Judges
Kate A. Toomey and Diana Hagen concurred.
This case involves not the benefit of the doubt, but some
doubt as to the benefit. After separating in 1992, the court
entered a decree of divorce based in part on
Duane and Kathleen's stipulation. The decree
awarded a portion of each party's retirement benefits to
the other party. The decree directed the parties to cooperate
in obtaining qualified domestic relations orders
(QDRO) to effectuate the property distribution of
the retirement accounts. Kathleen filed the QDRO related to
her retirement account in 1995, but Duane waited until 2000
to file his corresponding QDRO. As it turned out, just before
Duane filed, the Utah Retirement Systems' rules regarding
retirement benefits changed, providing Duane with the
advantage of new distribution rules. In 2015, Kathleen filed
a motion to amend her 1995 QDRO to reflect the updated rules.
Duane objected, but the district court granted the motion.
Duane then filed a motion to reconsider, which the court also
denied. Duane appeals those rulings. We affirm.
When the parties divorced in November 1992, they both were
employees of the State of Utah. Pursuant to the decree of
divorce, each party was awarded a Woodward share of
the other's retirement benefits: 50% of the retirement
benefits that accrued during their marriage. See Woodward
v. Woodward, 656 P.2d 431, 433 (Utah 1982) (holding that
pension benefits accrued during the marriage are marital
property subject to equitable distribution). The decree
directed the parties to cooperate in obtaining QDROs to
effectuate the property distribution of the retirement
In March 1995, Kathleen filed her proposed qualified domestic
relations order (1995 QDRO) for the court's signature and
then submitted the signed order to Utah Retirement Systems
(URS). The 1995 QDRO ordered URS to divide Kathleen's
share of Duane's retirement based upon the rules in
existence at that time. Those rules left Kathleen's share
of Duane's retirement in Duane's shared-interest
account. The 1995 QDRO also provided,
The [district court] retains jurisdiction to amend this Order
so that it will constitute a domestic relations order under
the plan even though all other matters incidental to this
action or proceeding have been fully and finally adjudicated.
If URS determines at any time that changes in the law, the
administration of the plan, or any other circumstances make
it impossible to calculate the portion of a distribution
awarded to alternate payee by this Order and so notifies the
parties, either or both parties shall immediately petition
the Court for reformation of the Order.
Sometime in 2000,  a URS rule revision occurred which,
according to Kathleen, "changed the manner of
distribution to more fully reflect Utah law on division of
retirement property to what is common[ly] referred to as a
separate interest." Under these rules, Duane's
account would no longer be a shared-interest account, but
instead would be divided into two separate accounts
proportional to Kathleen's marital interest. Alteration
of the 1995 QDRO would ultimately change the potential payout
to the parties, depending upon who predeceases whom. If
Kathleen were to predecease Duane under these rules,
Kathleen's payout would no longer revert to Duane,
essentially divesting him of that benefit.
In September 2000, Duane filed his own qualified domestic
relations order (2000 QDRO). Because he filed after the rule
change, Duane received the benefit of the new, separate
account distribution rules. Duane's 2000 QDRO had no
effect on Kathleen's 1995 QDRO, which was still subject
to the old rules. In December 2015, Kathleen filed a Motion
for an Amended Qualified Domestic Relations Order (Motion to
Amend) requesting alteration of the 1995 QDRO "on the
ground that the rules for Utah Retirement Systems [had]
changed since the entry of the [1995 QDRO]."
After lengthy objections from Duane, the district court
conducted a telephone conference in September 2016 and
thereafter granted Kathleen's Motion to Amend, stating,
"It seems like the orders were meant to divide each of
the [parties'] retirements in the same way." The
court held that Kathleen should "be granted the same
benefits on the method of division as Duane." That same