If you are earning or collecting a pension, divorce can raise several uncertainties
about whether pensions or other retirement assets will be divided between
In most states, a pension earned during a marriage is considered a joint
asset or a marital asset of both parties. In fact, in 1984 the Retirement
Equity Act was passed, which put spousal pensions into play. For this
reason, pensions, in most instances, can be divided during divorce –
but they are not automatically divided.
For pension funds or other retirement accounts (like 401k or IRAs) to be
awarded, one party must request a share of the pension during the divorce
process, even if neither of you are yet retired. The court orders that
outline these payments are referred to as qualified domestic relations
orders, or QDROs.
What is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order?
A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO, pronounced “qua-dro”)
is a legal document that ensures the pension plan administrator appropriately
divides the pension as it is explained in the divorce decree. These legal
documents can be formed in various ways, but they must abide by guidelines
outlined by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
In most cases, these awards come in the form of payments to the former spouse.
It is important to keep in mind that a non-participant spouse may be entitled
to the same rights outlined in the plan as the participant, including
early withdrawal options and cost-of-living arrangements. In addition,
the non-participant spouse may be entitled to receive payment as soon
as the ex-spouse is allowed to obtain payment.
McKinley Irvin Can Protect Your Future
These matters can be highly complex, so couples seeking divorce who have
retirement funds subject to division should seek experienced legal counsel
right away. Because divorce courts can determine whether or not or how
pension assets are divided, a seasoned divorce lawyer can help you understand
the process and ensure your rights and finances are safeguarded during
the process. We invite you to contact our Washington divorce lawyers at
McKinley Irvin to discuss your situation.