The Fourth Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined the qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) should not have been modified by the court because the stipulation of settlement, which was incorporated but not merged into the judgment of divorce, controls. The Fourth Department noted that no appeal lies of right from a QRDO but it treated the notice of appeal as an application for leave to appeal and granted the application:
A stipulation of settlement that is incorporated but not merged into a judgment of divorce “is a contract subject to the principles of contract construction and interpretation” … . Where such an agreement is clear and unambiguous, the intent of the parties must be gleaned from the language used in the stipulation of settlement and not from extrinsic evidence … , and the agreement in that instance ” ‘must be enforced according to the plain meaning of its terms’ ” … . “A proper QDRO obtained pursuant to a stipulation of settlement can convey only those rights to which the parties stipulated as a basis for the judgment” … . “An alternative result would undermine litigants’ freedom of contract by allowing QDROs to create new rights—or litigants to generate new claims—unexpressed in the settlement stipulation” … . Thus, “a court cannot issue a QDRO encompassing rights not provided in the underlying stipulation . . . , or one that is more expansive than the stipulation” … . Gay v Gay, 2022 NY Slip Op 04480, Fourth Dept 7-8-22
Practice Point: A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) as described in a stipulation of settlement incorporated but not merged into the judgment of divorce cannot be modified by the court. No appeal lies of right from a QDRO, an application for permission to appeal must be made.