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Bardine v. Bardine

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

August 2, 2018

BRUCE R. BARDINE Appellant
v.
DONNA J. BARDINE

          Appeal from the Order Entered October 20, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County Civil Division at No(s): 2009 GN 4150

          BEFORE: BOWES, J., OLSON, J., and KUNSELMAN, J.

          OPINION

          OLSON, J.

         Appellant, Bruce R. Bardine (Husband), appeals from an order entered on October 20, 2016 that granted a petition filed by Donna J. Bardine (Wife) to vacate the parties' divorce decree and modify their property settlement agreement. We reverse.

         Husband and Wife were married on September 4, 1976 and separated on June 20, 2009. Husband filed a divorce complaint on November 5, 2009. Thereafter, in August 2012, the parties appeared before a hearing master to divide their marital assets, including funds held in Husband's Kmart Corporation Employee Pension Plan (pension). At the hearing, the parties agreed to equally divide the monthly payment benefit issued from Husband's pension and further agreed to incorporate this "equal division" term into their marital settlement agreement. The record of the hearing contains no discussion of, or agreement to, a specific monetary sum that Husband or Wife expected to receive from the pension. Wife later filed exceptions to the hearing master's report and recommendation but did not raise an issue related to the pension. The trial court entered a final divorce decree on December 19, 2012. The decree incorporated the parties' marital settlement agreement, including their agreement to divide equally the monthly payment benefits issued from Husband's pension.

         A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) was subsequently prepared and executed by Wife, as an alternate payee, on October 29, 2013 and by Husband, as a participant, on November 20, 2013.[1] With the preparation of the QDRO, the parties learned that they each would receive a monthly payment of $480.52 from Husband's pension. See QDRO, 12/3/13, at 2. On November 14, 2013, Wife filed a petition for permanent alimony seeking an additional monthly payment of $314.50 from Husband. Wife claimed that, throughout the proceedings, Appellant misrepresented the anticipated monthly pension benefit as $788.05 and she came to rely on that sum in accepting the parties' marital settlement agreement. Lengthy negotiations aimed at resolving the parties' dispute ensued but, ultimately, proved unsuccessful. After a hearing, the trial court, on October 20, 2016, vacated the parties' divorce decree and modified their marital settlement agreement by directing Husband to pay Wife an additional $157.25 each month.[2] The court also determined that it retained continuing jurisdiction to conduct oversight and enforcement of the parties' marital settlement agreement because of Husband's alleged fraud and the parties' mutual mistake of fact. See Trial Court Opinion, 10/20/16, at 3; see also Trial Court Opinion, 6/30/17, at 2.

         Husband filed a timely notice of appeal on November 21, 2016.[3] On May 17, 2017, the trial court directed Husband to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Husband filed his concise statement on June 2, 2017 and the trial court issued a brief opinion on June 20, 2017.

         Husband raises two issues in this appeal:

Did the trial court commit reversible error in opening and modifying the [p]arties' [m]arital [s]ettlement [a]greement and opening the [f]inal [d]ivorce [d]ecree and [QDRO] when [Wife] failed to file a petition to open said final order within the thirty (30) day required time period under 23 Pa.C.S.A. § [3332]?
Were the [trial c]ourt's findings offered in support of modifying and opening the [f]inal [d]ivorce [d]ecree, [m]arital settlement [a]greement, and [QDRO] insufficient and inadequate as a matter of law and were said findings supported by the record?

Husband's Brief at 6.

         Husband raises two interrelated claims that challenge an order granting Wife's petition to vacate the parties' divorce decree and modify their marital settlement agreement. Hence, we shall review his claims in a single discussion. A trial court's exercise or refusal to exercise its authority to open, vacate, or strike a divorce decree is reviewable on appeal for an abuse of discretion. See Ratarsky v. Ratarsky, 557 A.2d 23, 25-27 (Pa. Super. 1989), affirmed, 581 A.2d 1377 (Pa. 1990).

         Husband's claims in this appeal center upon the application of 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 3332, which governs a trial court's authority to open or vacate a divorce decree. Specifically, Husband points out that because Wife filed her petition more than 30 days after entry of the parties' divorce decree, intrinsic fraud was no longer available as a justification to open or vacate the decree. Additionally, Husband asserts that Wife failed to establish extrinsic fraud, or any other ...


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