Getting Income From Retirement Plans After Divorce

QuestionGetting Income From Retirement Plans After DivorceAs a part of my divorce settlement, I am supposed to get a portion of my husband’s retirement plans. I’ll need some of the money to live on, but I’m only 53, so I’m too young to receive retirement benefits. What’s the best way to handle this retirement plan distribution?

AnswerGenerally, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO, pronounced “quadro”) would be used to transfer your portion of your husband’s plan to an IRA in your name. Ordinarily, you can’t take money from your IRA without penalty until you are 59-1/2.

If you need money to live on now, you can elect to have the funds transferred from your husband’s plan directly to you, rather than transferring them to your IRA. You will have to pay tax on the money you receive, but there won’t be any 10% penalty if the money comes from a retirement plan other than an IRA.

If you don’t want to pay all those taxes up front (and who would?) you can choose to have the money sent directly to your IRA. Then you can annuitize the IRA, taking monthly distributions based on your remaining lifetime.

Although IRA distributions before age 59-1/2 are usually subject to a 10% penalty tax, an exception applies if you annuitize the IRA and continue receiving the payments until you are 59-1/2 (and for a minimum of five years).


  1. debbie didonato says:

    Need to have paper work drawn up to git qudo he paid for the divoice and I have no representation.


  2. verdell rosalez says:

    himy husband is a alcholic and verbally abusive we have been married 8 years he has a retirement plan am i eligibe to get anything

  3. If divorce papers were filed 5 years ago, is it necessary to get lawyer to get his retirement ? And if filed in one county and moved to other do I have to refile?

    • Those legal questions are dependent on the laws of your state, so you’ll need to ask your attorney for guidance. If the divorce was not finalized, in some states the case is dismissed 5 years from filing and you have to start over. To distribute a portion of an employee’s retirement plan to the ex-spouse, there need to be legal documents filed and served on the plan administrator.

  4. Patricia Cooper says:

    My aunt has been married for 28 years to her soon to be ex-husband. He is drawing his retirement and she is 52. Will she be able to receive her portion now to live on or do she have to wait? If I understand it correctly she can now and pay taxes on it. Also is it half of the retirement? His lawyer is saying a third. We are in KY.

    • She will receive a portion of the payment that is currently going to him, and she will not have to wait. I don’t know Kentucky rules, but in many states the spouse’s portion is 50% of the marital portion based on the time he was in the plan while married divided by the time he was in the plan in total. So if he was married for 2/3 of the time he participated in the plan, then she would be entitled to 1/3 of the benefit. This issue should be addressed in her divorce agreement.

    • My husband had me to sign papers while I was sick with my oxygen lever dropping can I take him back to count I signed almost everything to him because I wasn’t in the right state of mind .we divorced in Aug can I still take him back

  5. My husband and i have been divorced since 2006..In our divorce it states that i get half of his 401k from the time we were married up until when our divorce was final.. I have not received anything.. hes going to b quiting his job and moving out of state,how do i get my half before he draws out his plan and leaves state with All of it ???will I have get a lawyer to file the QRDO? Or is there a way I can file for that by myself??my lawyer is no longer in practice as a lawyer she is now a states attorney..Please help i Dont know what to do and Dont think its fare if i have to pay for another lawyer when in my divorce papers it Already says i am entitled to half..

    • Contact the company to let them know that your divorce decree says that you are entitled to half the 401(k) and ask them what additional paperwork they need. They probably have a proforma fill-in-the-blanks QDRO that you and your former spouse can file with them. Having it done professionally is always preferable, but if you can’t afford that, then see if you can do it yourself. But get it done ASAP before something happens — you are at risk until you do.

  6. My ex is retiring in Jan 2014 happy for him.. and happy for me too because I do get some of his retirement I donated to during out marriage.. thou together 20 yrs only actually married 9 1/2. At time of divorce in 2000 he was making 94,000 (now 125,000) he gets 80% of his income for retirement.. how will I figure this out? I worry he will low ball me and I wont know any better.. there was a lump sum done at the time of the divorce in 2000 by an estuary (spell check) for 56,000 but he only wanted t o give me 30,000.. at the time I was working and getting alimony and child support so I choose to wait until her retired.. I became disabled in 2010 and no longer working, I really need to get an accurate number so I wont get low balled.. is there an online calculator to give me some idea? thanks!! Renee

    • Your divorce decree will tell what you are to get. If you were awarded a percentage of his retirement and served a Qualified Domestic Relations Order on the plan administrator, your portion will be paid to you directly by the retirement plan. If not, and your ex has not yet retired, then you’ll need to get that QDRO in place right away. If your decree says simply that your ex will pay you a percentage of his retirement as he receives it, then you will need to request proof of how much that is, such as a copy of the check he receives or a pay stub.

  7. I was awarded half my ex husband’s pension and the QADRO and was signed by the judge. All the paperwork was turned into my ex’s pension plan months ago, my husband is past 55, and I still have not received anything from the pension company. I have called the person handling my QARDO personally on 4 occasions, everytime he tells me I will “hear from him next week.” This has been going on since May 2004 and it is now Sept. 2014. What should I do next?

  8. I have a horrible situation right now….I left my job 11 yrs ago and have received less than $600 in SS a month. I am covered by spouse health ins. Married 40 yrs. 57 & 58…he has always had the control of money and now receives testosterone. Inj that has completely changed him as a human being. He has cognitive problems that he denies and has been inappropriate on the internet. He is either at work or gone, we have no friends or extended family besides 2 grown sons which I an get no understanding from. He acts different around them. The stress is so bad that I feel like I am having a nervous breakdown at times. I am tryinv to work on better pain control but know it does not mean I will earn a living at my age. I always stayed home with kids so my husband could always work as much as he said he had to, only gtting my first full time job at 42, it only lasted 4 yrs…..I have called apts. And they tell me I have to have three times the rent in my income….I have no credit by myself….my husband has tied all money in property or his 401k..He even forged my name on my last 20k and put in his 401k instead of the small one I had started at 42…..I am lost and feel he has thrown me away….I am alone 99%of my life……my question….Does a judge usually award alimony with part of 401k? How does someone like me even be able to live in an apt if I have no income enough to qualify…he refuses to talk to me about most every topic but finances is out of the question…..i wonder sometimes if he is waiting to retire, in about 5 yrs…..will he have to give me alimony then? I. have no money to see an attorney. Thank You for your time in reading this.

    • Alimony rules differ from state to state, so you’ll have to discuss this with an attorney in your locale.

      • Do you know of any situation where retirement funds such as pension and 401k plans have to notify the beneficiary of any money that has been moved? Are there irrevocable provisions owners of these plans can put in place for spouses who stayed in marriages as long as 40 years? I made the home a comfortable place for my spouse and children neglecting my own career needs, even after going through a 2 yr college. I am afraid my spouse is having cognitive problems and will not seek help. I have tried to get him to discuss our finances but keeps asking me what I am talking about. I am afraid he is going to make bad financial decisions. And the personal stress associated with this is overwhelming for me. Thanks for your answer.

    • You are entitled to 50% of his pension, 401k’s and IRA’s that were earned during your marriage. You are also entitled to spousal support for 1/3 of the number of years your were married. If you were married 21 years you would get 7 years spousal support. You can ask the court for emergency funding to get your set up in an apartment too. DON’T settle for less.

    • Judy Anstess says:

      Done…I wrote you a reply at the bottom. It is a long one and that is why I am telling you to look down the page..Judy Anstess.

  9. Is there any way to get pension money that was awarded to me through divorce before my ex an I are 55

  10. Julio Lepe says:

    How long after the attorney receives payment to process QDRO does it take. Should I be expecting a check soon, I made payment with attorney three weeks ago. My marriage ended because I wasn’t making enough money , to see her career grow and have move seven times. My work was not priority since I started a painting business, she was in the Air Force , I moved so much was hard to start over a new business. I did it again in Utah moved entire house for her and children started new business , only this time she got a high tech job, again making good money and good benefits. One day upset about money she asked me how long I had been saving and how much I had. I kind of laughed and wonder are you serious everything I made I had to spend on us, The only money set aside is the Social Security money but I don’t have a retirement fund 401(k) or IRA. All she needed was a reason to get out .so one day her mom ,sister ,father and brother in law got upset with me for complaining at Bear lake one night, that in 3 days she called from attorney’s office to finalize our marriage. I cried like someone ripped my heart out we were married 18 years and she took my family, wife, kids, home, insurance, benefits, few friends we had . I lost everything she wanted even more. Why can someone make a law that says first you prove you need a divorce , second you prove you tried everything including hrs of counseling to reconcile , and third the separation can be allowed once both have given a fair chance to act civil and respectful. Work on the differences don’t say they are irreconcilable until there is proof. My ex took me out like I was a dirty filthy painter lowlife .im so much more than that .So I guess I’m ok and now I’m better my crying has almost stopped I still miss them. They even took my dog. I only see my kids for a few hrs 3 times a week. I almost killed myself with a knife to my throat once it made me so mad. Why can people learn to respect and love their spouses more. thanks for letting us pour our heart out and get your God given gift to help us , the victims.

    • If the QDRO has been prepared and filed with the court, then it shouldn’t take long for the court to process, depending on the backlog. But if the payment you made was just to begin the process, then the paperwork would have to be prepared and submitted to the company, which would request any changes they want, and then look at it again, before it is approved for filing. That back and forth could take several months.

    • I am sorry! I hope you are doing fine. I feel your pain, you know… I really do. There are lot of things for you to do in life and ease your pain, don’t try to hurt yourself, love everybody, especially your enemies, forgive them. Do you believe in Karma? She will have her turn to pay back someday.

  11. Lisa feerando says:

    I have been divorced for 4 years now and was awarded half of my ex’s retirement but the attorney wanted $500 more dollars to fe the paperwork for getting the retirement and I just don’t have that kind of money … Is there a time limit on filing the paperwork and can I do it myself ?

    • The retirement administrator probably requires a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. You can contact the plan administrator to see if they have any templates available for you to use.

    • i was divorced in 1994,was married to him for 20 years and have 3 children with him,I was granted part of his retirement in the divorce aggreement,I just found out he was laid off with the company in 2010,and took lump sum in his retirement,I have not been notified of anything,i heard he put the money some place not to be touched until now he is starting to draw funds from it.Is it failure to comply by court order by him not paying me my part.He has known all along where i have lived,but i don’t have his address or any info about him,this was a very abusive marriage and terrible drawn out divorce so when it was over,i have tryed my best to stir clear of him,so what should i do,i am disabled and on a very fixed income and cannot afford to hire an attorney.

      • You can’t afford to let him keep the money, so talk to an attorney. Many give a free first consultation. You should have filed a Qualified Domestic Relations Order to protect your interest in the retirement plan, but it isn’t too late to get your money, just more legal hassle. Take action now — you need the money.

  12. I live in Seattle, WA and divorce was final on September 17, 2014 . My ex husband’s 401k and pension were divided 50/50. Please advise me on how I may give these benefits back to my husband to pay for our daughter’s education, wedding,etc. He absorbed ALL of the debt, provided a car and alimony ! He also paid for the legal fees ! We have known each other for 30 years, and I want to give back what he rightfully earned . Thank You for your time ! ~ Lee in Seattle

  13. I have been Divorced for four yrs now & Our settlement was made my our Att’s. I have all the paper work etc stating the QDRO’S but my question is, how safe is it to have this done on line? I see even on this site advert to do your QDRO’S for you for a certain amt $$ ie., (299.00).
    Also is there a time limit this needs to be done?, I was adv by my Att no time limit. But my ex-husband & I just turned 65yrs but he has not retired yet.
    Thank you!

    • If the page is secure where you post your information and the people running the website are competent, then you could certainly do a QDRO online. Get the QDRO in place right away, so that if he retires or dies you get your benefit without having to go to court and fight for it.

  14. Part of our divorce settlement is to split my husbands QRDO, we have not gotten our final divorce degree finished but agree to the split with both attorneys. We both would like to cash it out for living expenses. If we wait until the finalization, we understand there will be a extra fee. How do we split it and determine taxes? do we let them take it from the top. $50k

    • Your husband does not have a QDRO, he has a 401(k) or pension or other retirement plan. You use a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to split his retirement plan. The QDRO could provide that you get all the funds in the plan, and that they go to you directly rather than into an IRA. You would have to pay the income taxes on them, and then your divorce agreement could provide that you’ll give him the net amount realized after taxes.

  15. I’ve been married for 21 years we have four children together, one is an adult now but I got three minors ages 16, 11, 10. What are my legal rights? I live in Texas. He has a 401k which he’s had the whole entire course of our marriage, would I be entitled to some? Would I be able to get alimony? Does he have the right to say I can’t leave Texas? Our kids want to live with me and have told him but he wants them to have to stay with him. What can happen? I’m worried. I appreciate any help y’all can give me, thanks.

  16. My husband blind sided me with a divorce and closed all the accounts on our children and me. He was rewarded a portion of my IRA for me getting the house. It states that I have to have my attorney do a QDRO to get him the money. I spoke to Wells Fargo who handles my account and they said he could just open up a IRA account with them and I could fill out the paperwork and send them my final divorcee degree signed and I would be good that way and not be taxed. My CPA told me the same thing. Is this accurate? I just want to make sure so I don’t get taxes. My attorney wants to charge me $1500 to prepare the QRDO and as a prior stay at home mom looking for a job and him closing the accounts, I don’t have that extra money to spend to have my attorney prepare this.

  17. I’ve been divorced since July 3rd 2014 and I’m entiled to half the 401k. I can’t seem to get anything accomplished from my attorney. 2 months after the divorce I had a meeting with him to go over some things in our decree including the 401k. Its been another 3 months now and I talked to him just before Thanksgiving; he said he was going to call my ex’s attorney the first thing Monday morning to see what’s going on with the 401k. I’ve called him everyday for the last two weeks now and he won’t return my phone calls. I’m wondering if this is something I can do on my own or if I should just wait until he decides to do what he’s paid to do? I really don’t want to hire another attorney; is something I should worry about? It’s been 5 months and nothings been done since we signed the decree. I feel I’ve waited long enough, but if I’m in no danger of losing my half then I’d feel a bit relieved since it seems like the waiting game isn’t ending any time soon.

    • You are not in danger of losing your half, but it will be a hassle if your ex dies and you want to get your half. So you need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order in place as soon as possible. Ask your attorney to recommend someone to you who specializes in drawing up QDROs.

  18. No longer comatose says:

    I am presently going through a very difficult divorce. I have been married for 23 years. The relationship has been emotionally abusive (most often controlling through the use of money and threats) and has ended with physical aggression (no broken bones so this means almost nothing in the courts). My husband is a narcissist and shows signs of psychopathic behavior. If you know of these disorders, they can be some of the most harmful emotionally abusive situations. I am currently receiving counseling for this. As my eyes are opening and I am finding my strength and my brain again (coming out of my ‘coma’), I am really struggling with, what seems to be, the unfairness of divorce in our judicial system. I have supported my husband and his career for 23 years. He went from an income of 30K initially when we were married to 5 or 6+ times that amount plus stock options and bonuses over the years- all while I took care of everything short of income and finances. He demanded full control of all our money. While we are in a state that is no fault and all of our current assets are split 50-50, please help me to understand why alimony is based on my current living expenses which total 1/5th of his income. He will keep the other portion to do with as he pleases which includes, but is not limited to, adding to his future retirement funds that I will have no access to. My spending is such because my children and I have lived with a man that refused to spend and share his income. He and I both agreed to my staying home with our children. I also spent several years homeschooling my children and they are currently in college on academic scholarships. I could have easily been the one who became successful in a career outside of our home and that would have put me in the position to earn the income he is now making and allowed me to invest in my future. Instead, after supporting him, I am now 50 years old, out of the work force for years, and having difficulty finding a job that would even pay 1/5th of what he earns. And I can no longer put money away for my future. I will continue to live in a financial situation that was less than fair (based on our income) and not have the extra 150K+ that he will have to do with as he pleases. How, in any way, is this just?

    • Is there a limit on how long a woman can wait before she draws the money from the 401 account? After 29 years, we were divorced in 2008 and she still hasn’t taken her share. Is there a point where she takes so long, she forfeits it?

  19. Judy Anstess says:

    I just went through the same type of situation. I am also on disability. I just up and left everything. The only difference was that he had been giving me $800 to help me live on my own for the last 3 years. Then one day I get a knock on the door and was served with divorce papers. Well, he makes close to $90,000 a year and of course could afford an attorney. No attorney would give me the time of day without at least a $5,000 Retainer Fee. I had no money for an attorney. I did my whole divorce myself just from reading everything online. There is a section that states if you do not have the funds for court fees, they will wave them, so I filled out that paperwork (that I also found online) followed the very easy instructions and all of my fees were waved. Then when my exes attorney sent me a “STIPULATED JUDGEMENT” (which is just what he thinks he should pay was a joke as far as I was concerned) Anything that is written in a STIPULATION is law, if you sign it. For example: My ex wanted to only pay me $800 a month for Alimony, when he brings home almost $7200 a month, and ONLY UNTIL HE REACHES RETIREMENT AGE! I know my husband well enough to know that he will not retire at 65. So I just took the STIPULATED JUDGEMENT that they were offering me and rewrote it and added what I WANTED! The main thing I changed was that I wanted $1500 a month Alimony UNTIL HE “ACTUALLY RETIRES”..(not when he reaches retirement age) Because the divorce was filed in California, I (by California law) was untitled to 1/2 of his 401-K, and half of the EQUITY in our home..(I did not want the house) We also owned out rite a condo in Las Vegas (which is in the ghetto and wasn’t worth much) I also wrote into “MY STIPULATION” that because my husband was only willing to give me $11,900 from the EQUITY (which is about $12,000 less than it was worth) and for that reason I would take in trade for not giving me actually HALF of the which should have been around $26,000, that I would take the condo off his hands because he didn’t want it anyway. I used no attorney for anything and here is what I ended up getting 1) $1100 a month alimony instead of $1500
    2) $121,000 in my own IRA (which is half of his 401-K) Make sure that you read about using a QDRO..They are the only one that can do the transfer of your husbands 401-K..VERY IMPORTANT! I have sold the condo for $15,000 from the sale of the condo (which I did not owe taxes on because it was paid off and I sold it for way less that what we ought it for..So for someone not knowing anything about divorce law, I think I did very well. YOU CAN DO THIS TOO. You can live on your alimony and your disability alone, without touching the 401-K..So, write it in your STIPULATION that your husband is to pay for the QDRO because he makes way more money than you. You should also talk to a financial advisor about wjere you should put you part of his 401-K..They will help you invest it and it will draw interest. When you do have to use some of it, you will only be taxed on the amount you use, which shouldn’t be much because you are in a low tax bracket..My name is Judy and if you have a question about where you should start looking for what you need to do to start, feel free to email me. I will point you in the right direction..for no charge at all. I was in the same situation and no one would help me either. Here is my email:
    Good luck to you..Judy

    • Judy, I have been reading this site and see that you are one knowledgeable person,. I need some advice, and can’t afford an attorney. I have been on disability since 2010 and get 976 a month and awarded spousal support last October and just learned he is leaving town. We are not divorced yet, He has the marital home, and is selling everything, What do I do? Also he will be retiring. Help,

  20. Judy Anstess says:

    My divorce was final November 13, 2014..Because it was a California divorce, and we were married for 30 years, I was entitled to have of the equity in our home, half of his 401-K (apx $121,000) and a condo that was supposed to be Quick Claimed to me only..He has been paying the alimony, but has not signed the Quick Claim Deed yet and it was ,ailed to him on December 3, 2014. He still has not contacted his appointed QDRO to transfer my half into my IRA. He will not answer any phone calls from me or texts either. I have left at least 8 messages on his company cell and he will not call me. I had no money for an attorney and did it all myself and got everything I wanted except for $400 more in alimony. What is my next step in getting him to full fill his Court Ordered Divorce Decree? Am I going to have to file a CONTEMPT OF COURT? Or garnish his 401-K because he isn’t doing anything about signing the Quick Claim Deed and has not been in touch with the QDRO? I hate to be mean, but I have to look after myself. I am living on less than $2,000 a month and he makes close to $7,200 a month. Hope you have an answer. Oh, is there a time limit on how long he has to contact a QDRO? Thanks for any help..Judy Anstess

    • If your divorce papers say that he is to sign certain documents and he refuses, then you can ask the court to sign a representative, called an elisor, to sign on his behalf. If he is not taking steps to begin the QDRO, you should take that into your hands and do so.

  21. I’m divorced. I was rewarded 1/2 my husbands pention during the years we were married. He took a buy out with the company. He is 57 . I’m 50 and will be receiving my ” check ” with in the month. Can I cash it? Do I have to give it to a financial advisor ? And why ? If i have to give it to him can I keep some? I don’t understand… I never intended it to be my retirement money and I could use it now .

  22. My best friend has been divorced for several years. According to her divorce, and Qdro agreement, her husband agreed to have his pension continue on after his death until she died. At some point he signed off on this agreement with his retirement company. They are now telling her she is only covered till his death. Can they legally change a divorce agreement like this??
    Thanks so much!

    • If the QDRO provides that her portion is segregated from his, then hers should survive his death. If not, then you’ll need to get an attorney to review it to see what it does say. A QDRO and divorce agreement cannot bestow greater benefits on either party than the plan itself allows.

  23. Sandra Gowettt says:

    I am divorced ! I have retirement available to me & half to my ex spouse? He has no qdro on file. Will this hold up my half?.

  24. I received money from my first husbands retirement plan 25 years ago and I rolled it over to a Traditional IRA in my name. If I were to get a divorce in my second marriage, would my current husband be entitled to any of this money from my first husbands retirement plan? I have not contributed anything to this during my second marriage.

  25. Gail McCann says:

    My sister was awarded a portion of her ex-husbands retirement when they divorced over 20 years ago. Last year she found out that he retired 5 years ago and she hadn’t gotten a cent. She hired an attorney and after a long process, she was awarded the amount due. He paid her $35,000 and then sent her a 1099 form. She doesn’t feel and really can’t afford to pay taxes on this as a windfall amount. Is there any way for her to just pay on the portion that she should have been getting each year for the last 5 years.

  26. My wired signed. Our divorce papers and then ripped them into pieces… can I still use that contract with her signiture Even though she ripped it up? I could rely use some guidance

    • You are not divorced until your paperwork is filed with the court and approved. If you can’t piece the divorce papers back together, you’ll probably have to get her to sign another copy. If she agreed in court to sign, then you can compel her to do so. Otherwise, you and she will have to negotiate a settlement and write it up into a document that she signs. Check with your attorney to see if there’s anything else that you can do under your state’s laws.

  27. april thornton says:

    My mother recently divorced my stepfather back in June or July. During mediation he agreed to pay her like 1000 dollars a month that was supposed to get my mother through March when her pension was gonna kick in when she turns 60 at the end of march.and come to find out she was not able to receive her pension at 60 and has to wait until she 62 the lawyer did not verify the information and now my mother is left with no income as she was a housewife what is there if any to do in a situation like this can she take a lawyer to court. it’s even hard for her to get insurance she went from having really good insurance through the railroad to trying to fight with Obamacare in order to receive insurance and come to find out she couldn’t afford it she’s had a nervous breakdown due to this and I’m trying my best to find out if there’s anything we can do to make sure that she gets what she supposed to get. Can the case be reopened? Where would we start.

    • Ask an attorney what the procedures are for reopening a case when there was misinformation given on which the parties relied.

      • April Thornton says:

        So the original lawyer isn’t returning my mother calls. Should she get a new lawyer and if it was processed in Atlanta ga does she have to get a new lawyer in Atlanta or can she get one where she lives now in Chattanooga tn. Thanks for your help we are lost. She paid the lawyer 3,000 retainer fee plus. And she’s now needing government assistance.

  28. Ann Trinca says:

    Been divorced from my ex husband since 2002. In the divorce agreement it states that I will receive my Majauskas share of pension plans commenceing date of divorce action. It also states I will be responsible for the QDROs. He is still not retired and I haven’t done the QDROs, is it too late?

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