Retirement & Divorce

Are you divorced or going through a divorce?

Make sure you’re informed about the process of dividing a retirement benefit.

A retirement benefit can frequently be one of the largest assets in a divorce. This means that a share of a former spouse’s retirement benefits can be an important source of income in old age.  This is especially true for older divorced women, who are more likely to be poor in old age than men or married women.  Yet, even though retirement benefits can be divided at divorce, retirement plans are often overlooked at divorce because a divorce can occur years before retirement. And many divorce attorneys and family court judges are unfamiliar with how retirement plans work and the laws that govern retirement plans.

It is important to make sure your divorce addresses any retirement benefits in order for you to receive a share of most kinds of earned retirement benefit. Exceptions are Social Security and Tier I Railroad Retirement benefits.  Once your divorce is final it can be more difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to obtain a share of the benefit if it was not addressed in your divorce decree.

The divorce decree should specifically address both the retirement benefit(s) and any survivor benefit(s).  Keep in mind that your former spouse may have earned benefits from more than one employer and/or under multiple retirement plans at the same employer, and/or through a union.  Make sure that your former spouse has properly disclosed all of the retirement benefits s/he has earned, and alert your divorce attorney or the divorce court if you believe that your spouse is not providing all the information.

Learn more about this issue

Click on the headings below to see more information.

A divorce decree alone is not enough. You also need an additional court order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).
Private retirement plans will pay retirement benefits directly to divorced spouses if there is a QDRO on file.
Get a QDRO as soon as possible.
Find out if the retirement plan has a model QDRO.

The Pension Rights Center is working to solve the biggest obstacles to dividing retirement benefits at divorce

A fair share of a former spouse’s retirement benefit can often be an important source of income in old age, but many women never end up receiving the retirement benefits awarded to them at divorce. Meanwhile, divorced women are at significantly greater risk for poverty in old age than men or married women. We have launched an Initiative on Retirement Benefits at Divorce to identify why so many women are struggling to obtain the benefits they were granted at divorce, and to find solutions to these problems.  Learn more about the Initiative.

For more information, check out a Pension Rights Center blog series on divorce and retirement assets:

Retirement & Divorce Highlights:

Fact Sheets and Issue Papers
11/22/16 |Pension Rights Center

I’m getting divorced: What is a qualified domestic relations order and why should I care?

Legislation & Regulations

Documents for Divorce Proceedings

Fact Sheets and Issue Papers

Pension Rights After Divorce

The Latest on Retirement & Divorce:

Comments & Letters

Senior Policy Consultant Norman Stein Testifies Before the IRS

PRC’s Senior Policy Consultant Norman Stein testified before the IRS and the Department of the Treasury on April 11th, urging them to take measures to protect spousal retirement rights. Read his testimony here:

Press Release

PRC Urges IRS to Protect Spouses

The Pension Rights Center (PRC) filed comments with the IRS/Treasury Department today urging the agency to strengthen – not weaken – critical legal protections for spouses’ retirement security.     In its letter, PRC registered its strong disapproval of an IRS proposed rule that would eliminate the long-standing requirement that a spouse can only sign away their […]

Comments & Letters

PRC Comments to IRS on Physical Presence Requirements

The PRC filed comments with the IRS registering its strong disapproval of a proposed rule that would eliminate the long-standing requirement that a spouse can only sign away their right to a survivor’s benefit knowingly and voluntarily in the physical presence of a notary or plan official in order to safeguard against fraud and coercion […]

Blogs & Newsletters

What Women Facing Divorce Must Know About Spousal Retirement Benefits

By David Brandolph Divorce can be both emotionally traumatic and financially devastating – especially to older women who are as much as three times as likely as men to be below the poverty line in retirement. That’s why it’s important for older women and all others experiencing a divorce to know that they may be entitled to […]

Blogs & Newsletters

Retirement & Divorce: New Report Highlights What We Don’t Know

By Emily Spreiser In August 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on qualified domestic relations orders, or QDROs.  For those not familiar with what the GAO does, it’s an agency that responds to inquiries from members of Congress who want to know more about how federal tax dollars are being spent in order […]

Blogs & Newsletters

A helpful guide for people awarded retirement benefits at divorce

By Emily Gilbert There is now a helpful new guide for individuals who are going through a divorce and have questions about dividing retirement benefits. The guide – created by the Pension Rights Center, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges’ Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Child Protection and Custody, and the National […]

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