We often hear Clients suggest that “you keep the house and I will keep the retirement.” While it may seem equal, it is a plan that will leave one with a gap in housing and the other with a gap in retirement funds. If there is a limited amount of cash to divide for emergencies, the plan is highly likely to leave both of you struggling to get through the financial surprises that life often brings. It is far better to make your divisions, including retirement, more well-balanced.
If you are in your 50s or 60s you are becoming keenly aware of the upcoming retirement phase of your life. Fortunately, this baby boomer generation has moved beyond the “rocking chair” mentality of their parents. Sometimes by necessity they continue to work but often it is because they know they can reinvent themselves to be of value to others and continue to earn money if they choose to do so.
If you are in your 30s or 40s, you are so busy with establishing your careers, homes, and often taking care of children that you have very little time to think about the next phase of your life. Those years pass quickly and you will arrive at the next phase before you know it. A little bit of thought and planning now will go a long way for a better future.
The retirement funds that have been accumulated during the marriage are likely to be divided, leaving each of you with far less than you had together during the marriage.
Most retirement funds from employment are “defined contribution” funds which means you know what is being put in and receive a statement of the balance in the account. Although they are rarely offered these days, there are some “defined benefit” funds which mean that you don’t know for sure what is going into the fund and you receive a statement that tells you what your monthly payment from the fund will be when you retire. There are some employment retirement funds that are a hybrid of the two.
All retirement funds offered through employment are “tax deferred,” which means you don’t pay taxes on the money until you receive payment. These funds must comply with federal law to keep their tax deferred status. The federal law requires a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or QDRO from the court before the funds can be divided. The Attorney-Mediators at Alpha Center will guide you to a specialist in this area to ensure that all of the federal law requirements are met.
Private retirement funds are usually held in an IRA and they do not require the QDRO. The key is to ensure that, when funds are transferred from one person to the other, the person receiving the funds places them in an IRA in their individual name. If this transfer is not properly handled, there will be taxes due that could have been avoided.
Sometimes people who are going through separation or divorce are struggling financially and have no choice but to cash in retirement funds to be able to establish two separate households. This step should be avoided if possible, but if it cannot be avoided it should be handled very carefully. The tax burden should be clearly identified by the accountant in Step 4 of the Alpha Center program for divorce mediation. This step will ensure that the tax is as low as possible and the tax debt is divided fairly.
Social Security payments will hopefully be available to supplement whatever retirement savings we have accumulated. This payment is controlled entirely by the government so is not divided in divorce. It is good to know what you will be entitled to receive in Social Security so you can plan for it. A good source of that information is: www.ssa.gov/estimator/
Whatever stage of life you are in when you separate or divorce, there is no doubt that good planning is the key to your comfort in retirement.