Retirement accounts are a hot topic when it comes to divorce. Some men work at a company their entire life while their wife stays home and they wonder why she is entitled to anything. The woman is an executive and the husband tends bar on the weekend, yet he wants some of her pension when they divorce. How is all of this possible?
A marriage is an equal partnership, not measured by which partner is making more money individually. While laws are unique to each state, generally speaking, retirement accounts can be looked at as the future wages of the couple, not the individual.
If the husband was working full time and the wife was home with the kids, did she not make it possible for him to have his career by staying at home? The same can be said for the other scenario when dad stayed home and pulled shifts at the local taproom while her career flourished. At the end of the day, all the money goes into the same pot to pay the household bills.
The courts will look at retirement accounts much the same way. Both individuals are entitled to his or her fair share of the earnings that are set aside for retirement. However, exactly how these assets are distributed will vary from case to case depending upon the agreements negotiated during divorce.
If all assets are being divided equally, you can expect all retirement moneys accumulated during the marriage to be divided equally. Keep in mind that if you had an active retirement account prior to the marriage and then continued to contribute while married, the account may have to be evaluated to separate the funds prior to the marriage against those accumulated during the marriage.
Another scenario may see the couple deciding to take individual accounts. For example, the wife keeps the 401K while the husband keeps his pension. The couple may also negotiate to have certain assets in lieu of retirement accounts. For example, the wife gets the car and the home while the husband gets to keep the pension and 401k in full.
The division of retirement accounts is obviously a very complicated matter and one that you need not do on your own. If you were considering filing for a divorce without an attorney and have significant retirement funds, think again. Get on the phone and find a qualified divorce attorney to help you. If not, you may find yourself with nothing but the clothes on your back!