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Division of retirement accounts during divorce

On Behalf of | Mar 12, 2024 | Family Law

Divorce can significantly impact retirement accounts, which are often among the most valuable assets divided between spouses, given that many individuals count on the funds in these accounts to support them after they stop working.

Understanding how retirement accounts are treated and the steps involved in their division is crucial for both parties to better ensure a fair settlement and protect their financial futures.

Qualified domestic relations order (QDRO)

For retirement accounts that fall under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), such as 401(k)s and pensions, a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is necessary to divide the account. A QDRO is a legal document recognizing an alternate payee’s right to receive a portion of the account holder’s benefits. This document must specify the percentage or amount to be paid to the alternate payee and be approved by the court and the retirement plan’s administrator.

Individual retirement accounts (IRAs)

The division of individual retirement accounts (IRAs) doesn’t require a QDRO but must be done under the terms of a divorce decree or settlement agreement to avoid early withdrawal penalties. The process typically involves a direct transfer or rollover of the agreed-upon portion of the IRA into another IRA in the name of the receiving spouse. Following the IRS guidelines is crucial to ensure the transfer isn’t considered a taxable distribution.

Protecting retirement assets in divorce

Given the complexities involved in dividing retirement accounts during a divorce, both parties should seek professional assistance from attorneys, financial planners, and tax advisors who can provide guidance specific to their situation. Early negotiation and clear communication can help ensure that the division of these assets is handled fairly, allowing both parties to secure their financial futures post-divorce.

The division of retirement accounts is only one part of the property division process. Being able to determine how this split will affect the remainder of the property division is beneficial. Working with a legal representative who can explain the options and what the possible outcome can help people to make decisions in their best interests.