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Ruggles v. Ruggles

Supreme Court of New Mexico
860 P.2d 182 (1993)


Facts

Nancy Ruggles (plaintiff) filed a petition against her ex-husband, Joseph Ruggles (defendant), alleging that the marital-settlement agreement (MSA) executed by the Ruggleses upon their divorce allowed Nancy to receive a monthly amount from Joseph’s fully vested and matured retirement plan, even though Joseph had not yet retired from his employer. Joseph disagreed and claimed that Nancy was not eligible to receive any benefits until Joseph actually retired. The trial court reviewed the MSA and concluded that, even though the MSA did not explicitly state when and how Nancy was to receive her interest in Joseph’s pension plan, the MSA was not ambiguous, and Nancy was entitled to receive $753.94 per month immediately. The trial court reasoned that the present value of Joseph’s pension benefits dropped each day before retirement, and thus, Nancy should not financially suffer as a result. Joseph appealed. The court of appeals interpreted the MSA differently and reversed. The court of appeals followed the New Mexico Supreme Court’s holding in Schweitzer v. Burch, 711 P.2d 889 (N.M. 1985), ruling that upon dissolution of marriage, retirement benefits in community property should be divided on a pay-as-it-comes-in basis, unless otherwise agreed by the parties. Therefore, the court of appeals mandated that Nancy was not entitled to Joseph’s retirement benefits until Joseph actually retired. The New Mexico Supreme Court granted certiorari to review.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Montgomery, J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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