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How are retirement assets divided in a divorce?

As discussed last week in this blog, the issues involved in a divorce can vary widely depending on the circumstances of the Florida residents involved. For instance, the increasing number of divorces taking place between baby boomers may involve different issues than divorces between individuals of other age groups.

One common issue that is involved in many baby boomer divorces is deciding how the parties' retirement plans should be divided. Whether the retirement plans are divided in a settlement agreement or by the court, proper care and consideration should be given to how these assets can be divided in an equitable manner. This can be easier said than done. In certain cases, it can be difficult to value all of the parties' 401(k) plans, pensions and other retirement accounts.

Even when valuation issues are taken care of, there needs to be proper planning to ensure the division of assets is carried into effect. For example, an individual who is to obtain a share in the ex-spouse's retirement benefits may need a qualified domestic relations order, otherwise known as a QDRO. This document is a court order, which orders the retirement plan to pay out the share of benefits the individual is entitled to receive.

A divorce agreement should specify the issues involved in obtaining the QDRO. The agreement should include details about who is responsible for preparing the QDRO and paying the related fees. If these issues are not properly addressed, it can result in major problems, including a person not being able to obtain the retirement benefits he or she was entitled to receive.

Source: Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, "Divorce and retirement: How to take control of retirement benefits," accessed on April 16, 2016

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