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What happens to my partner’s retirement savings in a divorce?

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Your partner has been the breadwinner and major contributor towards retirement. Meanwhile, you have worked from home to raise the kids so your spouse could focus on a lucrative career. However, you have started down the road to divorce, and you might have some concerns about your access to long-term savings and assets like a pension and 401(k).

Firstly, this is not a rare situation. Divorce rates among people nearing retirement are on the rise – approximately cent since the 1990s. Divorce is an already wearisome process without financial worries. When you are left without a significant portion of long-terms savings to fall back on, it can create serious emotional stress. Retirement funds can be among the most significant single investment that a couple has, so you want to make sure the money is used to ensure an equitable outcome for both you and your spouse after divorce.


Retirement funds are considered as the “property” of the marriage, and so the total sum of the savings might be split quite differently in divorce when compared to how they could be distributed if you or your spouse retired tomorrow.

Joint accounts

It is important to note that if you set up the retirement funds with joint access, your partner may be able to withdraw immediately. It might pay to check the fine print on your accounts with your financial provider.

Court order

If there is a retirement fund, you must share with your spouse during and/or after the divorce. Using a Qualified Domestic Relations Orders could prove useful; this court order will direct your plan administrator to continue as before but also pay your partner their share of the benefits to a separate account.

Estate plan

You might be worried that your estate plan mentions your spouse extensively. How soon should you make changes? Under Georgia state law any provisions you have made about leaving property (including retirement funds) to a spouse are revoked automatically when the divorce is finalized.

Uncontested or contested divorce?

Think about how amicably you might be able to split with your partner. Consider if you want to work closely together with your spouse to reach a divorce agreement (uncontested divorce) or if you need to go to court (contested divorce). Think about how much time, money and emotional investment you want to put into this breakup . It could end up being a bigger effort than you think and you might need some guidance.

Your retirement years should be a time for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor. If you receive less retirement savings than you are owed it could have long-term implications. If the right steps are taken in divorce law and with the right advice a marriage break-up does not need to be any more traumatic than it already is.

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