If John was less than 59 1/2, so he could not get into his IRA without penalty. He could QDRO, but that is just a property settlement. John wanted an alimony deduction. If he kept the IRA, he would have income on the withdrawal and a deduction for the alimony. That is a push - except for the 10% penalty on the early withdrawal. John was in a tough spot.
Then again, maybe he didn't think of tax matters at all.