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Do the courts expect you to split your pension with your ex?

You have always been the breadwinner for your family. Maybe both you and your spouse work, but you simply have a more lucrative career with a higher salary and better benefits. Perhaps your spouse chose to exit the workforce to raise your children or provide work around the home, such as cooking, cleaning and yard maintenance.

Regardless of the exact situation that resulted in an income discrepancy in your marriage, if you have a well-funded pension in your name, you may feel protective of that asset with a potential divorce approaching. You need to worry about your financial future and retirement, after all.

It is perfectly normal to wonder whether the family courts expect you to share your pension with your ex in the divorce. Numerous factors will influence what claim your former spouse has to the pension funds that you've accrued with your employer.

The courts typically split assets acquired during marriage

Unless you and your spouse executed prenuptial agreements specifically naming your pension as separate property before your marriage, the courts will likely treat the bulk of the account as marital property, depending on the length of your marriage and your contributions to the account during that time.

Amounts deposited prior to your marriage will remain your separate property, but any amount accrued during marriage, including employer-matching amounts offered as bonuses or performance incentives, are subject to division in most cases.

The courts care less about whose name is on the account than whether you acquired the assets during the marriage. Even if your ex never contributed a single penny to the account because they weren't working, they most likely have a claim to at least a partial share of the pension or other assets of equivalent value in the divorce.

How do the courts split pensions off?

The exact methods of the courts use to divide your pension will vary on a case-by-case basis. Couples who have only been married for a short time could potentially offset the value of the pension with other assets, while a marriage that lasted for 30 years could entitle a spouse to a substantial portion of the pension that requires division of the account.

If you contributed very little to your pension account during the marriage, the courts may simply look at the total amount accrued during the marriage and use that figure to guide them during the division of other assets.

However, if your pension is one of your largest assets and your marriage lasted for much of the time when you were building the balance of the account, the courts may want to split the pension. They can order plan administrators to split the account or potentially order alimony that starts when you begin receiving disbursements from your pension.

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