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Protect your retirement in divorce

There is so much going on in divorce that it can be difficult to keep track of everything that you need to do in order to be financially and emotionally stable post-divorce. Custody arrangements, mortgage payments (or selling the home) and property division are just a few of the pressing issues involved in a divorce.

An easy area to forget is retirement savings. A 401(k) is not a great asset for paying immediate expenses. In divorce, it can be tempting to secure assets that help your standard of living now, such as the marital home, rather than focus on assets that will not yield benefits for years.

This means one of the largest mistakes made by people in divorce is undervaluing the importance of retirement assets. A 401(k) or other retirement savings account is often the largest or second-largest asset owned by the parties to a divorce, behind only the home.

That is why it is important to protect your retirement in a divorce.

Divorce can greatly affect your standard of living in retirement

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Sociology found that divorce was one of the largest predictors of financial insecurity in retirement. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. For example, a 401(k) can be divided in divorce, even if the account is tied to only one party's employment, through a QDRO.


A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is a court-ordered judgment that can give all or a portion 401(k) interest to an ex-spouse. This means a retirement savings account is a negotiable asset to divide in divorce, like the parties' other assets.

Having enough money for retirement means comprehensive planning and negotiation. This includes considering:

  • Whether spousal support is appropriate so one ex-spouse can get further job training or education, especially if he or she stayed home to care for children
  • Whether you qualify for your ex-spouse's Social Security benefits amount (you must have been married 10 years). If you do not, your Social Security benefits will be based on your salary, which may be lower.
  • How much each spouse contributed to household income
  • The current and future earning potential of each spouse

An attorney can help

Planning for retirement in light of a divorce can be daunting. For help navigating the legal and financial complexities of divorce, contact an experienced family law attorney who can advise you of your rights in divorce.

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