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Hays County Retired Judge Overcomes Divorce Mistake

Posted by William Hernsberger | Apr 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

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Imagine the look on Judge Anthony Conrad Bellchamp's face at his retirement party.

His wife of fifteen years pulled him aside.

"Judith [... Judge Bellchamp's ex-wife]  called. She  sends her regrets that she can't attend the retirement party. She also wanted to tell you that she applied for your TCDRS* retirement.

It's a nightmare. But you're not dreaming. 

"She said she gets it all. Is that true?

"Wait. There's more. She said she gets all of the ERS** retirement, too. And, apparently, you named her irrevocable beneficiary for every penny in both retirements.

"What are we going to do?"

The Goals

  • Recover that portion of Judge Bellchamp's retirement that he earned after the divorce.
  • Enable Judge Bellchamp to name his current wife as beneficiary for retirement that he actually owned.

The Approach

  • We undertook especially heavy legal research on these problems. Clearly, the retirement that Judge Bellchamp earned after his divorce was his separate property and beyond the power of the Court to divide. On the other hand, divorcing parties are free to divide separate property by agreement without restriction. Was there a legal avenue to reverse the award of Judge Bellchamp's separate interest retirement?
  • Further research revealed that the Texas County & District Retirement System (TCDRS) had approved a QDRO which required Judge Bellchamp to select a specific retirement option and name a specific person (his ex-wife) as beneficiary of his retirement. Chapter 804 of the Texas Government Code expressly prohibits a state government QDRO from imposing either requirement on the retiring employee.
  • We decided that Judge Bellchamp had the most leverage with TCDRS because they had literally violated state law and financially injured Judge Bellchamp.
  • We prepared to initiate administrative proceedings against TCDRS. However, TCDRS asked us to work with them towards a non-litigious resolution. We began negotiating with TCDRS before filing any documents.
  • Because any agreement Judge Bellchamp and TCDRS agreed to would require the involvement of Judge Bellchamp's former wife as well as his current wife, TCDRS opened the negotiations to all affected parties which became quire arduous and extensive.

The Result

  • We negotiated a comprehensive agreement on behalf of Judge Bellchamp. He retained full ownership of all retirement earned after the divorce from his former wife. He also retained the exclusive right to select whichever retirement distribution option he preferred and to name his present wife as the beneficiary of the retirement he owns as well as the retirement his ex-wife received in the divorce.
  • Judge Bellchamp's legal fees were substantial as they reflected the large volume of legal research and extended, multi-party negotiation that was necessary to achieve the desired result.

*Texas County & District Retirement System

**Employee Retirement System of Texas Do you have a retirement or QDRO problem? Contact us. Maybe we can help you like we helped Judge Bellchamp.

About the Author

William Hernsberger

Judge Hernsberger has practiced family law in Texas for over 30 years as a Board Certified Specialist in Family Law and Judge of the Family Court in El Paso, Texas. He has tried dozens of jury trials to verdict, thousands of bench trials to verdict, mediated hundreds of family law disputes, and a...

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