In some cases, the retirement benefit simply wasn’t addressed at the time of divorce, because retirement seemed far away and was not made a priority. Sometimes we learn that the benefit-earning spouse had failed to properly disclose the existence of some or all retirement assets. Or maybe the spouse’s lawyer just didn’t know to even ask about the retirement benefits. In far too many cases, these women are not receiving what they were legally awarded by their divorce decrees because federal law requires them to go through additional, difficult-to-navigate steps to obtain the benefits they were awarded at divorce.
We launched the Initiative to ensure that women and other spouses going through a divorce know what they need to do to get benefits they were awarded in the divorce decree, and to make the process easier for everyone. We have brought together stakeholders from all sides – retiree organizations, women’s groups, pension plans, employers, financial institutions, family attorneys and judges – to develop recommendations for making the process easier for consumers and less burdensome for retirement plans.
In order for a spouse to receive a portion of their spouse’s benefits after a divorce, the divorce settlement has to divide the benefits. Then, they typically need another court order for each plan being divided, called a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), which must be signed by a judge, and accepted and approved by the retirement plan. Many women are unable to access benefits awarded to them by a divorce decree because they do not know to obtain a QDRO, cannot obtain one, obtain an order that is not accepted by the plan, or are unable to navigate the procedures for submitting the order to a retirement plan.
The objective of the Initiative is to help economically vulnerable women obtain the retirement benefits that they have been granted in their divorce decrees. Anticipated outcomes are:
The Initiative works, in partnership with impacted stakeholders, to overcome common obstacles confronting women seeking to obtain the retirement benefits awarded to them in family court.