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How will my divorce impact my pension?

How do I access my personal plan details and balance?

Jun 23, 2013 by FREDERICK from Bakersfield, CA in  |  Flag
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7 votes
Peter C. Karp Level 20


There are many factors involved when it comes to divorce and the impact on retirement benefits. A pension earned during marriage is generally considered to be a joint asset of both husband and wife. However, it is up to state divorce courts to decide whether and how pension assets are divided, and whether survivors benefits are payable. The rules relating to the division of pensions at divorce are complicated and vary from state to state and retirement system to retirement system. You should consult with an experience attorney that can help guide you through the process. In the meantime, you may want to view the following link from the Department of Labor that discusses the Division of Retirement Benefits through Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDROs) http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/publications/qdros.html

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Comment   |  Flag   |  Jul 18, 2013 from San Francisco, CA

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That really depends on a lot of factors. One of the biggest will be division of assets / payments that will be laid out in your divorce decree. You could be responsible for paying half of all payments to your ex-spouse, or if their is a lump sum option, you may have to distribute part of your lump sum to your ex-spouse.

To answer your question about accessing your plan details and balance...your best bet is to contact human resources at the company that handles your pension. They should be able to provide you with all of the information you need.

Comment   |  Flag   |  Jun 23, 2013 from St. Louis, MO

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Frederick, I know you posted this question nearly a year ago. It comes up so often however when we do the financial analysis for clients, that I'd like to add a few points for those who may be facing this now. We want clients to have the benefit of modeling the financial outcomes of different scenarios for proposed settlements. When there are pensions, we model that too, using software that correctly values the pension so you can make a good judgment on the impact of a division. Pensions are quite valuable to both parties as they can represent significant streams of income that do not require individual savings and investments to maintain.

We do ask the non-pensioned partner to always consider negotiating for their part of the pension including supplemental pensions, insurance to cover pension payments and modeling pensions that decrease, decline, or stop over time. Always, always insist on modeling the math before you sign.

Comment   |  Flag   |  Jan 12, 2015 from Leesburg, VA

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DC is correct - it will depend upon a lot of factors. Some states do not spell out what happens in the divorce decree. Often the division of assets is enumerated in the separation instrument, or SAPS.

If your pension is your sole property designated in a Separation agreement, then nothing will happen to it. It will continue as is.

However, there may be a provision that discusses division of it as an asset. In this case, it will depend upon a number of things:

  • The pension will likely have to be divided via a QDRO (unless it is a military or federal pension, then DFAS will divide the account).

  • Whatever portion you are getting (let's say for arguments' sake it is 50%), then you should receive 50% of your benefit upon your "normal retirement age".

  • If the plan provides for a lump sum payout, then that lump sum is calculated and paid out to your ex-spouse.

  • If the plan does not, your ex-spouse's benefit is generally calculated by an actuary based on life expectancy and gender.

Hope that helps.

Comment   |  Flag   |  Jun 24, 2013 from Apex, NC

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3 votes

Frederick, what is settled in your divorce decree is what will go into a "Qualified Domestic Relations Order' or QDRO. It is actually a court order. Whatever it says in the QDRO is what your ex-spouse will get.

Your pension cannot be touched, unless there is a court order. Nothing trumps a court order.

You can view a FAQ sheet on EBSA's website at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/faqs/faq_qdro.html

Comment   |  Flag   |  Jun 24, 2013 from Delray Beach, FL

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Short answer: Your ex-spouse is probably going to be awarded half of your pension, 401(k), and whatever else you both have accumulated during your marriage.

Comment   |  Flag   |  Jan 26, 2014 from Canton, GA

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