Retirement Topics - Divorce


If a plan participant gets divorced, his or her ex-spouse may become entitled to a portion of the participant’s retirement account balance. Depending on the type of plan and the amount of benefits, the ex-spouse may have immediate access to his or her portion of those assets or at some point in the future (usually upon the participant’s retirement or death).

Most plans require an ex-spouse to file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order with the plan administrator before the plan can pay any portion of a participant’s retirement plan benefits to that ex-spouse.

A court can award all or a portion of participant’s retirement plan assets to his or her spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent by issuing a QDRO, which must be honored by the plan. The QDRO can order the plan to pay the participant’s retirement plan benefits to an alternate payee. The court's order can be in the form of a state court judgment, decree or order, or court approval of a property settlement agreement.

A participant who gets divorced may also want to change the beneficiary of his or her retirement plan. To do this, the participant should:

  • contact his or her employer or plan administrator to request change of beneficiary forms;
  • complete those forms in accordance with their instructions; and
  • submit the completed and signed forms to the employer or plan administrator, along with a copy of the divorce decree, if requested.

Additional Resources:

Publication 504, Divorced or Separated Individuals
Publication 575, Pension and Annuity Income
Publication 590-B, Distributions from Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs)
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