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Family Law Update

February 17, 2015

Federal Law Does Not Protect Husband Who Owes More Than $50,000 In Past Due Alimony

by Anthony Hoover

In the Pennsylvania Superior Court case Uveges v. Uveges, the Superior Court upheld the trial court’s decision to attach the husband’s Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act benefits to pay approximately $57,000 in past due alimony.

The husband and wife were married in 1972. A divorce complaint was filed in December 2009, and in January 2010, the parties entered into a marital settlement agreement. husband was to pay wife $2,500 per month in permanent alimony. The parties’ divorce became final on August 1, 2011.

In January 2012, husband stopped making his alimony payments. In February 2012, wife filed a petition to enforce husband’s alimony obligation. Wife requested that the trial court attach husband’s Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ benefits to automatically pay wife’s alimony. Wife also requested attorney’s fees because of husband’s breach of the agreement.

Following a hearing, the trial court entered an order requiring the attachment of $2,000 per month from husband’s Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Federal Compensation, and the attachments of husband’s private pension benefits, and social security benefits in the amount of $471 per month and $517 per month, respectively. The court also awarded wife attorney’s fees.

Husband filed an appeal. Husband did not deny that he owed Wife approximately $57,000 in past due alimony, rather, husband argued that the trial court’s order attaching his Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation was improper. Husband stated that the federal statute prohibits the trial court from attaching his Federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ benefits to recover alimony.

Husband cited a Louisiana Supreme Court case, Thibodeaux, 454 So.2d. 813 (La. 1984), which stated that the intent of the federal law was to insure that such benefits are paid to the worker, and were not intended to be levied or attached by creditors.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court disagreed with Husband’s argument. The court cited a 1984 Pennsylvania Superior Court case, Parker v. Parker, and held that the “anti-attachment” clause was to insure federal payments were received by the recipient and “the recipient’s family.” The purpose of the “anti-attachment” clause was not to prevent a spouse from collecting alimony.

As further support, the Pennsylvania Superior Court cited other federal authority, including the Social Security statute, which provided that any money due from the federal government may be subject to any obligation to provide child support or alimony. The Superior Court also referenced a similarity in federal bankruptcy law, which treats alimony and support in a different manner than other debts.

This case demonstrates the authority of Pennsylvania courts to enforce marital settlement agreements, including the attachment of federal benefits. Furthermore, this case also demonstrated a court’s ability to award attorneys fees, as was done in this case, when a spouse fails to comply with a marital settlement agreement.

© 2014 McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC

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