Often one of the most stressful and highly contested areas of divorce in Los Angeles involves property and finances. And this isn’t limited to just divvying up physical possessions. It extends to all assets of monetary value, including retirement funds and pensions. Although often dismissed or overlooked (especially for those going through divorce when they are still young), pensions can often have more value than all your possessions combined and, as such, make up one of the most important and complex aspects of divorce litigations. Naturally, this can cause immense mental strain, since a great portion of your life as an employee has been dedicated to saving up for a peaceful and satisfactory retirement. Thus, knowing you could lose a large portion of that can be worrisome, to say the least. Of course, if you did not work during the marriage and spent your time caring for your home and children, it can also be incredibly stressful to consider retirement. After all, you probably did not have the time to build up a pension.
If you find yourself in either situation, our Los Angeles pension division attorneys can help. We want you to be able to comfortably retire at a reasonable time, and ensuring that pension is split fairly is part a huge part of making that happen. While we will provide some general information on the process of pension division in the following paragraphs, this should not be taken as legal advice. Pension division in California is highly volatile, and your situation could call for a different course of action. That is why we provide completely free legal consultations, so that you can have your questions answered before you make any commitments.
As mentioned before, the way in which pensions are divided differs from case to case. However, there are some general guidelines for pension division in California that the judge will use to determine how your pension is split up.
Mediation to Decide Pension Division in Los Angeles
Sometimes, however, it is not even necessary to go before the judge to divide your retirement. Rather, this can be done through mediation, where you and your spouse will negotiate the terms of pension division. These terms will include the amount both of you will receive, the timing of payments, any benefits included in the pension division, how the payments will be made, etc. If you choose this route, it is incredibly important that your mediation attorney have experience working not only with family law but with finances as well. This will ensure that the pension is divided accurately and fairly and that your rights are always upheld. Once you agree on how the retirement will be split, your mediation attorney will write up a settlement agreement. This will most likely be a small section within your property settlement agreement devoted specifically to your pension. You should only sign off on the marital agreement once you have reviewed it and your attorney has informed you of what each decision means for your future. That way there are no surprises when you finally get to enjoy retirement and we do not want you to be taken advantage of in any way. For more information on how we can help you through mediated pension divisions, please look here.
Pension Division in Court
Of course, we know that mediation is not always a viable option for couples. Sometimes, disputes arise that are impossible to resolve without the judge there to make the decision for you. Thus, if you must go through court for pension division, we are prepared to go there beside you as your advocate. The way the judge divides pension in California depends on a number of thing factors, each of which will be presented when you fill out the pension division forms.
Los Angeles County requires several pension division forms to be submitted before you proceed through the actual process. The one which results in the most errors and thus is the most daunting of all is the infamous QDRO – Qualified Domestic Relations Order. When filling out this document, you must provide information regarding your current and past employment, length of marriage, and the specifications of the retirement fund, pension, or 401(k) plan(s) being divided. While this may sound relatively simply, it is more complex than it sounds. You must record every detail regarding your retirement plan as outlined by your employer, and making an error could cost you a fortune later on. This is why it is so important that your pension division attorney be knowledgeable about the different types of retirement plans and the laws surrounding pension division in Los Angeles.
The QDRO will also require you to provide the formula and calculations the judge will use to make his final decisions for pension division. This formula depends on the amount your pension is worth, the time you were married, when you began employment or the date the retirement fund began, etc. For more detailed information about the specific formula you must use, see below. Our asset division attorneys have calculated pension divisions for a multitude of clients over the years, and know the problems people tend to run into and how to quickly and efficiently resolve them. We will walk you through each step of the QDRO and the other pension division forms required by Los Angeles County to ensure that no errors are made and to best protect your hard-earned retirement money.
How the judge will calculate your pension division is determined by your specific employment and type of retirement plan. However, the basic guidelines do not differ too much between cases.
Pensions in Community or Separate Property
Since California divorces follow community property laws, all property acquired after the date of marriage is considered marital (or community) property. Community property includes pensions and retirement funds, yet they are typically commingled (or a blend of community and separate property). Thus, while you may have heard that pension division is 50/50 in California, the actual formula will almost always result in a different percentage.
The formula used for pension division has been dubbed the “Brown” formula based on a divorce case from the 1970s between Gloria and Robert Brown. This is when a judge first ruled the pensions were a part of property division, and thus should follow the laws of community property division in California. That judge then used the Time Rule Formula to split the pension. Thus, the “Brown” formula and the Time Rule Formula are not different. The former is simple an informal way of referring to the latter. Both indicate that you take the time the employee worked and divide it by the time they were employed during the marriage, which is why pensions are not split 50/50. Make sure you have a pension division attorney review your math, the stipulations of your pension, and your record of employment before you submit the QDRO so that your hard-earned funds are not unduly taken from you.
Sometimes it is possible to keep all or most of your pension during your divorce. If you recruit an excellent pension division attorney, they may be able to find innovative ways to persuade your spouse to trade items of lesser value to you for the majority or the entirety of your pension. It’s all a matter of what you value most and how you desire to proceed, so call us today so we can start collaborating with you on your pension division.