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Decision No. 201

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October 11 1963
In Re: Request of the Central Kansas Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision Concerning the Eligibility of Mrs. Margaret Rickard for a Pension Under Paragraph 1620.5

Digest of Case

A divorced wife of a former Methodist minister is not eligible for a pension which might be granted to a wife for her years of approved service.

Statement of Facts

The Secretary of the Central Kansas Annual Conference submitted the following "reference information" and resolution: "Case of Mrs. Margaret Rickard (Birth date 12-25-96) Rev. Maurice E. Rickard: Admitted on Trial in Southwest Kansas Conference in 1925. Receivedinto full connection in 1928. They were married on August 30, 1921. Central Kansas Conference Journal of 1949 shows the following: Page 195, question #36 - Who have had their conference membership terminated? By withdrawal? Maurice E. Rickard, under complaints. "Maurice E. Rickard filed suit against Margaret Rickard for divorce on grounds of 'incomparability and extreme cruelty' on November 4, 1949. "Margaret Rickard did not file any countersuit or contest the action. She continued to care for her children and was faithful in every respect, conducting herself properly as a minister's wife and mother of his children. She obtained employment and helped the children in every way possible. "Maurice E. Rickard married again as soon as possible after the divorce in November, 1949. "The Board of Pensions of the Central Kansas Conference contends that Margaret Rickard is eligible for annuity based on the years of service she gave to her conference as the wife of Maurice E. Rickard. (1960 Discipline, Paragraph 1620.5.) "The General Board of Pensions of The Methodist Church contends that Margaret Rickard has no legal claim on annuity from this conference under the 1960 Discipline. "In order that this question may be resolved and that the Conference Board of Pensions may administer this matter in accord with the intent of the Discipline, the Conference Board of Pensions submits the following resolution petitioning the Annual Conference to request the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision concerning the pension eligibility of a minister's wife under the provisions of Paragraph 1620.5 of the Discipline as this ruling applies to the case of Mrs. Margaret Rickard: RESOLUTION "WHEREAS, Maurice Rickard, a member of the Central Kansas Annual Conference did abandon his family, surrender his Credentials under complaint and marry another woman, and "WHEREAS, the abandoned and divorced wife did faithfully serve for a number of years as the wife of Maurice Rickard during the years of his effective ministry and was the victim of Maurice Rickard's unfaithfulness, and "WHEREAS, the Board of Pensions of the Central Kansas Annual Conference takes the position that Mrs. Rickard having reached the age of retirement is eligible to receive her pension based on the eligible years she served as the wife of an effective minister, and "WHEREAS, the General Board of Pensions takes the position that Mrs. Rickard has no pension eligibility, therefore "BE IT RESOLVED that the Central Kansas Annual Conference request the Judicial Council for a Declaratory Decision concerning the pension eligibility of Mrs. Margaret Rickard under the provisions of Paragraph 1620.5 of the Discipline." JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this matter under the provisions of Paragraph 914.8 of the 1960 Discipline. ANALYSIS Paragraph 1620.5 of the 1960 Discipline states: "An Annual Conference, on recommendation of its Conference Board of Pensions, may by a two-thirds vote of those present and voting grant annuity and/or necessitous relief to a wife for her years of approved service without granting annuity to her husband if he has disqualified himself by some moral dereliction, mental illness, or other cause beyond the wife's control." The subject of Paragraph 1620 is "Claim of a Widow." The other six sub-sections of this paragraph all refer to some phase of a widow's annuity claim. Sub-section 5 does provide for the possibility of granting a pension to a wife for her years of approved service when the husband has disqualified himself from receiving a pension. In this case, however, Mrs. Rickard is no longer the wife of Maurice E. Rickard. She is a former wife or divorced wife of Mr. Rickard, but there is a decided difference between those terms and the term "wife." We are aware of the fact that our decision works a severe hardship on Mrs. Rickard, who appears to be highly regarded by her own conference, but we must act on the present wording of the Discipline as it is before us.

Decision

It is, therefore, the decision of the Judicial Council that in view of the divorce and the facts as stated that Mrs. Margaret Rickard is no longer the wife of Maurice E. Rickard, and, therefore, is not eligible to be granted a pension for her years of approved service under the provisions of Paragraph 1620.5 of the Discipline. October 12, 1963 Mr. Berry dissenting. Mr. Throckmorton disqualifying himself. Dissent From Decision No. 201 My dissent from the majority opinion is based upon two grounds. First, the legislative history of the adoption of section 5 in Paragraph 1620 suggests that a liberal, rather than strict, construction should be the path followed by the Judicial Council. It is an established principle that remedial laws should be liberally construed, while prohibitive laws are to be strictly construed. There is no question that Paragraph 1620.5 is remedial in nature. It is to be noted that the title of Paragraph 1620 is "Claim of Widow," and section 5 creates a remedy for a class other than a 'widow' and enables an Annual Conference to grant: "annuity and/or necessitous relief to a wife for her years of approved service without granting annuity to her husband if he has disqualified himself by some moral dereliction, mental illness, or other cause beyond the wife's control." This section was adopted by the General Conference (1956) as an amendment offered on the floor (see: 1956 Daily Christian Advocate - pp. 559-560) and thedebate clearly indicates an intent to provide relief for a wife caused by abandonment, mental illness or other dereliction of the husband beyond her control. Since Paragraph 1620.2 provides "the annuity claim of a widow . . . shall become effective immediately upon the death of such husband;" I believe a fair and just interpretation of Paragraph 1620.5 should be that the claim of a wife becomes effective upon the disqualification of the husband by his moral dereliction, his mental illness, or other cause beyond the wife's control, and the relief granted by the approval of the Annual Conference should be based upon "her years of approved service" up to such effective date. The wife's entitlement to remedial aid should not be prejudiced by subsequent events or acts of the husband beyond her control. This, I believe, would be a consistent interpretation of both the word and spirit of the law in question, and any doubt as to the rights of the claimant, as supported by the Annual Conference, should be resolved in favor of the claimant. Secondly, even if the majority view is assumed to be correct, that the term "wife" should be strictly applied in determining entitlement to relief, I must dissent for the reason that the record of facts transmitted to the Judicial Council does not clearly establish that Maurice Rickard actually secured a decree of divorce. The record only indicates that: "Maurice E. Rickard filed suit ... for divorce on ... November 4, 1949"; and that he married as soon as possible "after the divorce in November 1949." It is highly improbable that a divorce would be granted in any State in less than thirty (30) days after it is filed. The legal rights of a wife to support and to inheritance continue until the contract of marriage is terminated by a court Decree of Divorce. If a decree of divorce was not actually granted, any purported second marriage would be bigamous and would not alter the legal rights of the first wife. For this reason a final decision based on the strict construction of the term "wife," I believe, should have been deferred until conclusive evidence was presented that a divorce in fact had been granted. Respectfully, (s) Theodore M. Berry Theodore M. Berry October 12, 1963

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