Do I have any right to my spouse’s pension?
Pension is a retirement plan where money is added to a fund during the employee’s employment years, and from which money is withdrawn once the employee has retired. As the State of Washington recognizes as a ‘community property’ state, all the pension earned by one spouse during the marriage is considered a joint property of the couple.
If a spouse has contributed to a retirement account (during the marriage), then that contribution also counts as community property.
Splitting a retirement account justly in divorce is a complicated process. In the not-so-complicated cases, both partners may have their own retirement or pension account, and both spouses may decide to keep his or her own account and waive their right to the other spouse’s account. This usually happens when both pension or retirement accounts are relatively equal in value. However, if one of the spouse’s retirement account is larger than the others, then the court may decide to award the other spouse’s account with a smaller retirement account (or an asset) to equalize the difference, so that the added value of the smaller retirement account is equal to the value of the bigger retirement account. If the option to ‘equalize’ does not exist, then a spouse can agree to receive a portion of the other’s retirement account.
Pension Rights after Divorce
It is likely that a divorcee will be subjected to receive a certain share of the pension only if they have a court order or property settlement that specifically awards them benefits from their ex’s retirement system.
Splitting a retirement account justly in divorce is a complicated process. In the not-so-complicated cases, both partners may have their own retirement or pension account, and both spouses may decide to keep his or her own account and waive their right to the other spouse’s account. This usually happens when both pension or retirement accounts are relatively equal in value.
The division of pension must be done when all other marital assets are being divided. The court ordered property settlement that provides for a pension plan to make payments to the former spouse is referred to as a domestic relations order.
If spouses share in each other’s pension plan in Washington (and if the court has ordered the division of the retirement account), a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) must be filed. This order composes of a set of instructions that explains to a plan administrator that two parties have decided to divide pension benefits.
These orders divide a pension (or retirement) account according to the marriage’s length and the program’s applicable rules. Dividing up a pension account is complicated because the spouse without the account is qualified only to receive half of the money the account accumulated during marriage, not before the marriage ensued.
LGBT and Domestic Partners Pension Plans
The situation for same-sex marriages is no different from any other marriage in Washington. Nevertheless, it is imperative to talk to a lawyer who is well equipped with knowledge about federal tax and retirement benefit law to make sure the ship sails smoothly (in divorce).
However, complications turn up when dealing with registered domestic partners. Partners who registered before June 12, 2008 can often find themselves intertwined in problems when dealing with the division of property. It is highly recommended they talk to a Washington State lawyer with expertise in community property issues. Domestic Partners who have registered themselves after the date usually face a straightforward road ahead (of divorce). They face the same procedure as any other married couple when dividing up assets.
Military Retirement Plans
A military pension is a ‘community property’ in Washington. If you have served in the military for more than 20 years, you automatically are qualified to receive military retirement pay. One of the most frequently asked questions by veterans is whether their divorce will have any sort of affect on their retirement pay. Unless there is leniency shown by the spouse, it undoubtedly certain that the retirement pay will be affected.
Divorced veterans are bound by the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA). In cases of divorce, a spouse is entitled to up to 50% of the retirement pay. But there is a certain criterion to be met. To be eligible, a spouse must be married to the serving member for at least ten years. Although it may be difficult to determine the overlapping of service years with the years of marriage, this plan is beneficial for the filing spouse as they are already entitled to 50% of the retirement pay and it also ensures less communications and amendments to the divorce settlement in the future. However, if a marriage has not lasted for ten years, a spouse may still be entitled to receive some benefits from the retirement pay.
Veterans and their spouses are also preferred for state government jobs in Washington. Another benefit a spouse may enjoy is the provision of 24-hour medical care in Veteran’s Homes (Orting, Retsil, Spokane, and Walla Walla).
Washington State also offers veterans and their spouses free counselling for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Services offered include individual, couples, family, and veteran group counseling.