Aside from your home, it is likely that the retirement accounts you and your husband hold make up a large portion of your shared assets. Divorce accounts, like 401(k) plans, IRAs, and pension funds come with a lot of rules and regulations, which makes them a little tricky to tackle in divorce. However, retirement accounts ARE assets and can be considered martial property. That means you are likely to be entitled to some of your husband’s retirement assets, especially if he was the primary breadwinner in your household.
Can You Receive Part of His Retirement Benefits?
Any income that your husband added to his retirement accounts while you were married or any amount that he became vested in a pension plan during marriage will be considered marital property. As long as the money invested did not come from an inheritance or as a gift or isn’t protected by a prenuptial agreement, it should be on the divorce negotiation table.
Before you sign your name on the divorce settlement make sure you understand exactly what the tax implications are for dividing retirement assets. Since retirement vehicles are so complicated, it is really a good idea to use an experienced divorce attorney to guide you in this process.
By the way, this rule cuts both ways. If you have built up retirement savings during the marriage, your soon-to-be-ex is likely entitled to part of your retirement savings.
Get a QDRO
If your husband has a pension or a 401(k) plan, you’ll want to ask the court to issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, known as a QDRO, which you can serve to your husband’s employer. The QDRO will allow your husband’s employer or retirement administrator to move funds from his account and place them in your retirement account without any penalties. We can’t stress enough how important this document is. Without it, your husband could end up with your share of the retirement instead of you.
Get a Lump Sum Payment Instead?
It is always possible for you to take a lump sum withdrawal from your husband’s retirement account if you both come to that agreement, but be aware of the tax penalties you’ll face. For example, if you ask your husband to hand over half his IRA to you in cash and you are under the age of 59 ½, that payment will get hit with a 10% withdrawal penalty. Additionally, he’ll have to report the total amount as income and pay income tax on it. If the amount is large enough, it might even get taxed in a higher tax bracket!
Think about how much money you need right now and where you are in your own retirement savings plan. If you can, use a QDRO to move your husband’s retirement savings into a new, separate IRA for yourself so you can focus on your own retirement savings. Of course, not every woman can afford to start saving money right away after a divorce. If you need the money to pay your legal bills or to start your life over, then you may have to simply swallow the taxes and penalties. Another option is to negotiate for cash from another source instead of your husband’s retirement accounts, such as from his stock options or RSUs, so that you can avoid an early withdrawal penalty.
Get Expert Help
Dealing with retirement accounts can quickly get messy, and many divorce attorneys mishandle QDROs. Military pensions, and pensions from the federal government, state government, county, or city all have their own rules and require their own expertise. Don’t try to negotiate these tricky subjects on your own and get burned with unknown taxes, penalties, and laws. Hire a knowledgeable divorce attorney or at least an attorney with contacts with specialists who can work with her on your divorce. It’s worth the extra money to make sure you get what you are owed in your divorce.