Divorce and Pensions: Don't Cut Corners When It Comes to Understanding Asset Value

certified divorce financial analyst dividing assets in a divorce pension in divorce property division in divorce qdro retirement accounts in divorce
reviewing pension paperwork for divorce

Are you losing thousands of dollars due to the financial fears that arise during the process of dissolution or divorce? The cost of the divorce itself is undeniably one of the biggest concerns clients express. There is no question about it. The duration and expenses involved in divorce proceedings usually exceed initial expectations. However, it is crucial to understand that taking shortcuts or cutting corners is not advisable, as it may have long-term consequences that could further impact your financial situation. It is essential to approach this challenging situation with a comprehensive understanding and seek professional guidance to navigate through it successfully.


Valuing a pension for divorce

One frequent corner cut is a pension valuation. Pension valuations do not take a lot of time. However, they do require you to work with someone other than your attorney. Thus, even when recommended by their attorneys, many clients choose not to have them done.

It is not even necessary to meet with your valuation expert in person. All required information can be provided via phone/email. In some cases, the attorney can even provide all the relevant information. I recognize that it can feel stressful and overwhelming to work with yet another professional and have yet another bill to pay. However, it could be one of the best returns you ever receive on an investment.

Valuing a pension based on the future pension benefits rather than on the contributions will often show that it's worth more than you may have realized. This is especially important to consider if the participant spouse is trying to keep their pension intact. It's important to fully understand the value of what you're giving up.


Pension Valuation: What You Will Learn

As I mentioned before, you will find that the value from the most recent statement is not the value that should be considered when dividing assets. There are numerous variables to consider when valuing a pension for divorce. We look at how much of the pension was earned during the marriage to determine the portion that is marital property and the portion that is separate property. We also look at the amount of the projected pension benefit earned. We make actuarial assumptions regarding age and life expectancy. Future pension benefits are discounted back using the risk-free rate, which fluctuates as interest rates rise and fall.

Think about it in terms of the house, an asset that the average person is more comfortable discussing. When discussing the value of your home, would you use the value of your home on the date of purchase if you bought it 10 years ago? Probably not. Just as it is imperative to get an appraisal on your home, it is equally as critical that you get a valuation on any pensions that are part of your marital estate.

While you think you're saving yourself some money by not getting it done, you may actually be giving up a lot more than you would be spending. If you would like us to help you with your pension valuation, schedule a call with us so we can discuss the information needed to get started. 

Items to Consider When Valuing a Pension for a Divorce Settlement:

1. Employer and Employee Contributions

The first thing to consider when valuing a pension for a divorce settlement is the contributions made by both the employer and employee throughout the course of the marriage. This information can be obtained from statements provided by the pension plan or through payroll records.

2. Length of Marriage Relative to Length of Pension Participation

The length of time that you and your spouse have been married is also an important factor in determining the value of a pension in a divorce settlement. In most cases, only contributions made during the marriage will be considered as marital property. 

3. Vesting Status

It's essential to know whether or not your pension is fully vested at the time of valuation. A fully vested pension means that you are entitled to receive all benefits from the plan, even if you were to leave your job. If your pension is not fully vested, then only the vested portion will be considered as a marital asset.

4. Retirement Age

The age at which you plan to retire can also impact the value of your pension in a divorce settlement. If you and your spouse are close in age, then it's likely that both of you would have similar retirement dates. However, if there is a significant age difference between you and your spouse, then this could affect the amount of time that contributions are made to the pension and, ultimately, its overall value.

5. Division of Pension in Divorce

Once the pension has been properly valued, it will be divided between you and your spouse according to state laws. In some states, a pension may be considered community property and, therefore, divided equally between both parties. In other states, it may be subject to equitable distribution where factors such as the length of marriage and each spouse's contribution to the pension are taken into account.

6. Options for Receiving Your Share

Depending on the type of pension plan, there are different options for how you can receive your share. These options may include receiving a lump sum payment, setting up a separate pension account in your name, or receiving monthly payments over a certain period of time. It's imperative to understand all of the specific options available to you before negotiating the pension. Every pension has its own rules.

7. Tax Implications

Pensions are pre-tax assets. The future pension benefits are taxed at the time they are paid to the participant. If future pension benefit is divided, then the benefit received by the non-participant spouse will also be taxed.


8. QDRO or Similar Court Order

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a legal document that outlines how a private pension plan or other employer account retirement account will be divided between spouses. This document must be approved by the court and submitted to the pension plan administrator in order for the division to be carried out. For public pensions, there are similar types of orders that are required for division. 

9. Seeking Professional Analysis and Guidance

Dividing a pension in divorce can be a complex process, so it's important to seek professional help from a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) or attorney who has experience with these types of situations. They can guide you through the process and ensure that your rights are protected.

10. Finalizing the Division

Once all of the necessary steps have been taken, such as obtaining a QDRO and reaching an agreement on how the pension will be divided, the final division will need to be approved by the court before it is finalized. This may involve appearing in court or submitting documents for review.

11. Moving Forward

Dividing a pension in divorce can be emotionally and financially taxing, but once the division is finalized, it's important to focus on moving forward. This may involve creating a new financial plan for your future without the pension or seeking additional retirement savings options.  

In summary, when dealing with the complexities of divorce, it's paramount to accurately assess the value of retirement benefits, including pensions and other retirement accounts. These assets, particularly a pension plan, play a crucial role in determining a fair division of marital assets. The valuation process goes beyond merely calculating contributions made during the marriage; it also involves understanding future benefits, the pension plan's vested status, retirement age, and the associated tax implications.

Seeking guidance from a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst ensures a comprehensive evaluation of these retirement assets. This careful approach is essential not only for a just resolution of the current divorce proceedings but also for safeguarding your financial well-being in the post-retirement years. Skimping on this process can lead to significant financial disparities and long-term implications, underscoring the importance of meticulous attention to every detail in the valuation of retirement benefits and accounts during a divorce.



About Intentional Divorce Solutions

At Intentional Divorce Solutions, we're committed to guiding individuals through the complexities of divorce with an approach centered on empowered choices and respectful outcomes. Our team provides comprehensive support and expertise in several key areas:

  • Divorce Financial Planning and Analysis: Providing in-depth financial insights and strategies for a secure future post-divorce.
  • Divorce Mediation: Facilitating respectful and balanced negotiations to reach mutually beneficial resolutions.
  • Divorce Coaching: Offering personalized support and guidance to help you navigate through emotional and practical challenges of divorce.
  • Divorce Support Groups: Creating a space for sharing experiences and finding strength in community support.

Please Note: We focus on providing support and solutions in various aspects of divorce. However, we are not attorneys and do not offer legal advice.

Work With Us

If you are on the journey of divorce and seeking professional, empathetic support, we are here to assist you. Reach out to us to discover how our services can be adapted to your unique needs, empowering you to make informed decisions for respectful and positive outcomes.

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