Can retirement benefits be divided in divorce?

Retirement benefits earned by a spouse during the marriage are usually considered to be community property that may be divided by the court. This is true even if the spouse earning the benefit thas not yet retired.

Retirement benefits are often a couple’s most valuable asset. Retirement benefits include 401(k) accounts, individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 403(b) accounts, pensions, military retirement, employee stock ownership plans, profit sharing plans, thrift plans, Keogh plans, stock option plans, annuities and variable annuity life insurance.

If you want the court to divide retirement benefits in your divorce, you must include specific information about the retirement benefits in your divorce decree. You must also ask the judge to sign an additional form, usually called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO (unless you are dividing an IRA). You should have the QDRO prepared before you go to court, so the judge can sign it when you finish your divorce. Note that various companies insist on their own specific QDRO language, so it is important to spend the time and money to divide benefits correctly.

After the judge signs the QDRO, send a certified copy to the retirement plan administrator. The retirement benefits will NOT be divided until the plan administrator gets a certified copy of the QDRO that was signed by the judge.