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Case Notes: Attaching a disablity fund to pay Pennsylvania alimony

The issue of attaching a disability fund with a "non-attachment clause" in order to pay alimony was the subject of the recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case of Uveges v. Uveges, 103 A.3d 825 (Pa. Super. 2014).

In Uveges, the court dealt with a Husband who owed $2,500 per month in permanent alimony to Wife. Husband subsequently failed to pay his alimony obligation, and the Court issued an order attaching his Longshore & Harbor Workers Compensation Act ("Disability Fund") wages. Husband argued that his Disability Fund wages could not be attached because of an anti-attachment clause in the Disability Fund entitled "Assignment & Exemption from Claims of Creditors".

The Superior Court denied Husband's appeal and upheld the trial court's attachment of the Disability Fund wages. The Court's reasoning was as follows:

A. The clause was written in 1927 to prevent creditors from attaching the Disability Fund wages. But alimony is not a "debt" and Wife is not a "creditor". In fact, modern bankruptcy law prevents a bankruptcy from undermining alimony, spousal support or child support.

B. The anti-attachment clause was preempted by a 1975 federal law that states that moneys from employment shall be subject to enforcement of child support or alimony.

C. Pennsylvania courts permit permit the attachment of other federally governed funds (such a "ERISA qualified" pensions).

D. The Court did not want Husband to get away with squirming out of his court-ordered obligations to his Wife by reason of the wording of a 1927 clause.

Reasons A-C were explicitly made a part of the written decision. Reason "D" is the "gastronomic jurisprudence" (i.e. how fair it feels in the gut) that really underlies so much family law. A good family law attorney must be familiar with reasons A-C. A great family law attorney must understand when reason "D" is going to make such a decision a foregone conclusion.

Most pensions and funds are attachable for alimony and support purposes. But some (such a military benefits that do not meet the 10/10 rule) are not. So speak wit your attorney to see whether pension attachment may be a part of your case.