Karen Ann Ulmer, P.C.
Legal & Mediation Services
“Calming the Chaos, Creating Solutions”
Call for a Confidential Consultation
866-567-9029 or 215-752-6200
Practice Areas
Watch our Video

equitable distribution Archives

Changes to Military Retirement Benefits

Retirement benefits can be a substantial asset up for division in the context of a divorce action. The same is true in the case of military retirement benefits. There is a certain time requirement for service in order to be eligible for military retirement. Once this threshold is reached, a spouse is then entitled to their share of the military retirement benefits no matter how insignificant. Under the ten year rule, where the parties have been married for 10 years and the service member has accumulated 10 years of service, DFAS (Defense Finance and Accounting Services) can pay the spouse directly. When the ten year rule has not been met, the spouse can still receive a portion of the military retirement benefits however the service member will be responsible to pay the spouse themselves. A court can only award a division of a military pension if it has jurisdiction over the service member via residence, domicile or consent.

Pension Valuations

Pensions are often one of the assets up for division in a divorce. The marital portion of a pension plan may be divided amongst the parties. 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. Parties can divide the marital portion of the plan by way of percentage or fixed dollar amount.

Appraisals

An appraisal may be needed to ascertain an accurate value of an asset in a divorce or estate matter. Parties may elect to use one appraiser or have competing appraisers. When choosing an appraiser, it is important to make sure the appraiser is licensed or certified. A licensed appraiser has met the minimum requirements for practice. A certified appraiser must complete additional classroom hours and practice in the field. A list of all licensed and certified appraisers is available on the appraisal subcommittee website.

Dividing the Marital Residence

The marital home is often one of the bigger assets to be divided in the context of a divorce. There are two options available regarding division of the marital residence. First, one party can keep the home and buy the other party out for their share of the equity. Equity would be determined by the fair market value of the home minus any mortgages or other liens on the home. The second option is for the home to be sold and the proceeds divided among the party. As a matter of equitable distribution, the disposition of a home would generally not be heard until grounds for the divorce have been established and the matter is scheduled for court. However, the family court has the authority to make determinations regarding a marital home even prior to or an equitable distribution hearing or entry of a divorce decree. The court can grant one of the parties exclusive possession of the home while the divorce is pending under Section 3502 of the Divorce Code. An award for exclusive possession should not be given lightly and the party requesting it has the burden of proving its necessity.

Discussing Your Home During Divorce

If you are overwhelmed with the divorce process it is important to take a step back and get organized.  One of the most overwhelming aspects of divorce is related to getting your financial documents gathered and assessed.  For our clients in Bucks and Montgomery Counties here in PA, we know how stressful this can be, especially when it comes to your home.

How to Rollover Retirement Assets

Retirement assets are often one of the substantial assets in a marital estate. It is possible to do a tax-free rollover of retirement benefits as part of a divorce. First, you will need to know what kind of benefits are involved. Qualified benefits will require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to achieve the tax-free rollover. Qualified plans include defined contribution plans such as 401K as well as defined benefit plans such as pensions. Federal retirement plans (e.g. CSRS, FERS, TSP) also require a court order to achieve the rollover however the appropriate order for federal plans is a Court Order Acceptable for Processing (COAP). Once the QDRO or COAP is drafted to dictate the percentage or fixed amount to be rolled over, it is signed by the parties and then the Judge prior to submission to the plan for execution.

Basic Requirements for a QDRO

A qualified domestic relations order or QDRO for short, is a document that is needed to split certain retirement benefits in the context of a divorce. Specifically, all benefits governed under ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) require a QDRO for division. ERISA plans may include pensions, 401Ks, profit-sharing plans, and stock ownership plans. A few examples of plans not governed by ERISA are local state or municipal plans, IRAs, or military benefits. There are certain base requirements for all QDROs. One, you must identify the name and address of both the participant spouse and the alternate payee, or party now standing to receive a portion of the benefits.

Dealing with Pre-Marital Assets

The Divorce Code defines marital property as that acquired from the date of marriage through the date of separation. It may also include the increase in value of property earned prior to the marriage to the extent the increase occurs during the marriage. A popular example of this may be a retirement plan or savings account. With assets or property earned prior to the marriage, it is important to ascertain the value of that property as of the date of marriage to assign that portion to the party who owns it.

Preparing for Equitable Distribution

Equitable distribution is the term used in Pennsylvania referring to division of marital property at the time of divorce. Marital property will consist of nearly everything acquired in either party's name from the date of marriage through to the date of separation. Equitable distribution does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split of all marital property. Instead, the statute on equitable distribution sets out 13 factors to be considered. In any divorce involving equitable distribution, the parties are tasked with identifying all the property to be considered. Specifically, Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1920.33 discusses the requirement of each party filing an Inventory. The Inventory should list all marital assets and debts at issue. An Inventory must be filed prior to requesting a hearing on equitable distribution. Further, if you are served an Inventory first, you have twenty (20) days to file your own Inventory. In this regard, it is certainly helpful to have some understanding of what you and your spouse have prior to filing for divorce. You can supplement the list of marital property if you do not have knowledge of all the assets and debts at the outset.

Pensions and Retirement in Divorce

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.

  • Avvo Rating
  • 10.0 Superb
  • 2014 top 100 lawyers ASLA
  • Overall Client Rating in Family Law - 4.8 out of 5.0

Office Locations

Langhorne Office
174 Middletown Boulevard
Suite 300
Langhorne, PA 19047

Phone: 215-752-6200
Fax: 215-752-6202
Langhorne Law Office Map

Doylestown Office
44 East Court Street
Doylestown, PA 18901

Phone: 215-348-3800
Fax: 215-752-6202
Doylestown Law Office Map

Norristown Office
516 DeKalb Street
2nd Floor
Norristown, PA 19401

Phone: 215-752-6200
Fax: 215-752-6202
Map & Directions