Pensions, as well as other retirement plans, are often one of the assets up for division in a divorce. The court will equitably divide the marital portion of a pension plan after considering all the relevant factors in equitable distribution. The marital portion of a plan would be the portion that accrued from the date of marriage through the date of separation. In some cases, the entire pension will be marital depending on the timing of the marriage alongside the start date of the pension plan. The marital portion will also include investment experience on the marital portion that accrues post-separation. It will not include contributions by the employee made post-separation.
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A court order is necessary to effectuate a distribution of a pension, or other qualified plan, in a divorce matter. Often called a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO, the court order provides requisite information to the plan administrator regarding the split of the pension. Qualified plans are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the QDROs allow an exception to ERISA's anti-alienation provisions. QDROs may also be utilized outside of pension plans to allow for a tax-free rollover of benefits. A popular example would be a 401k or other profit-sharing plan. It is important to check with the plan administrator to confirm if a special court order is necessary in the context of a non-qualified plan. In some instances, a property settlement agreement or transcript describing the transfer along with a divorce decree is enough.