Retirement Accounts in an Alabama Divorce

Retirement Accounts in a Dothan Divorce

Dothan divorce attorneys helping clients in cases involving retirement accounts

In lengthy marriages, the distribution of assets can be a complex issue, but nothing is more complex in an Alabama divorce case than the treatment of retirement benefits.

  • Is the retirement account at issue a defined contribution plan?


  • Is the retirement account at issue a defined benefit plan?

These questions may not seem important to you, but the answer could have a significant impact on the ultimate treatment of the asset.  Also, if the retirement account is ultimately divided in some way, complicated paperwork must be submitted which should only be prepared by a divorce attorney experienced in treatment of retirement accounts.

The spouse in whose name the retirement benefit is listed usually does not want to share the assets because they worked hard to earn it over the years and it has always been listed in their name exclusively.  Yet the other partner will argue the retirement account has only been given the chance to grow because of the sacrifices they have made to allow the earner pursue their occupation.

Divorce judges usually try to take both arguments into account in making an equitable distribution of the retirement assets in the divorce order.  The general rule is that you cannot participate in your spouse’s retirement assets after a divorce unless the marriage lasted at least ten years.  A marriage in excess of 10 years does not obligate the court to split the retirement, but only gives them the authority if they feel such would be equitable.  The Court will exclude from distribution any benefit earned prior to the marriage even if the parties were married in excess of 10 years.  Also, the divorce judge is limited to a maximum of 50% of the benefit to the non-earning spouse regardless of how long the parties were married.

Dothan Attorneys preparing your QDRO

Qualified Domestic Relations Order, also known as a QDRO, is an order signed by the judge that is required by the administrator of retirement plans in order to distribute a portion of the retirement plan to the non-earning spouse.  While QDRO’s work for many retirement plans, they are not always accepted.  Be aware that QDRO’s work for most retirement benefits, but not military retirement benefits.  In a military retirement, the federal government has its own specialized procedure that must be followed to distribute retirement benefits to the civilian spouse in a military divorce.

Those going through a divorce should also know that some retirement plans are not subject to division.  One example of this we regularly encounter is when one spouse is part of a public retirement plan like the Retirement Systems of Alabama.  Such a public retirement plan is not governed by ERISA and is therefore not divisible.  This fact should be taken into account in negotiating a property settlement.

Retirement plan issues in Alabama divorce cases are complicated and should not be tackled without an experienced Alabama divorce attorney.  To get the help you need in your divorce, contact the Dothan law office of Boles Holmes White at 334-366-6086.


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