Retirement Accounts in a DivorceYou have worked your whole life to make sure your retirement is secure and now you and your spouse are about to get a divorce. Thinking about what you can lose is enough to turn your stomach into knots. If you have been contributing to a 401k during the marriage, it will be considered part of the marital property in divorce. How it will be divided will depend upon many factors.

Firstly, there is no sense in trying to hide the 401k or calling up your plan administrator to try to block your spouse’s attorney access to the plan information. Your spouse is legally entitled to this information so his or her attorney can work the retirement plans into the divorce settlement. However, if your spouse also has any retirement accounts, you are also entitled to his or her plan information for the same reason.

The one thing you will want to do is make sure there are no withdrawals from any of the plans during the divorce proceedings. While both you and your spouse are entitled to the plan information, neither of you can make a withdrawal from any of the accounts during the divorce proceedings. Doing so will only lead to legal trouble in the future.

Every plan will have its own rules. For instance, some plans may allow the other party to take his or her share of the retirement account once the divorce is final. Other plans may hold the funds until retirement age even though the parties have divorced. It is best to sit down with your plan administrator prior to filing so you know all of your options (or have your attorney go over your documentation for you).

Generally speaking, the options below are common when 401k’s (and other retirement) accounts are being split during a divorce:

· Split All Assets – both parties can decide to evenly split all retirement accounts after the divorce. This will require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. However, there are significant complications and legalities when drawing up this document, so make sure you are using a divorce attorney experienced in this area.

· Asset Tradeoff – if you want to keep your account intact, you can offer to give up other marital assets in place of the 401k. This can also get a bit technical because your spouse’ attorney will more than likely bring  up the long term value of the account as well as any tax implications as a result of the settlement.

Two other possibilities are the liquidation of a part of the retirement account to pay off your spouse as well as rolling over the spouse’s portion of the retirement account into an IRA. Both of these options have restrictions to them and can only be used in very specific situations.

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