How are Pension Plans and Retirement Savings Divided in a California Divorce?

After a home property, pension plans and retirements savings are usually the most valuable assets involved in a divorce. Learn what the California family law says about dividing these marital assets.   

The question of dividing pension plans and retirement savings after divorce is particularly relevant in California, where many employers provide employees with numerous retirement benefits as a form of compensation. Partners know that having fair access to their own pension and to the funds that their spouse has contributed in his or her pension plan would help make their future financially secure, and so they want to ensure these assets are properly divided.

When we talk about dividing pension plans and retirement savings in a divorce in California, it’s important to understand that these assets can be classified as separate properties, community properties or both.

Separate properties are those properties that are owned by the partners before they were married or before they registered their domestic partnership. These properties are not divided during divorce.

An example of separate property would be a retirement plan to which you (or your spouse) had been contributing to before you two got married.

Community properties, on the other hand, are those properties that partners bought or earned during marriage. According to California law, these properties are co-owned and should be divided equally at the time of divorce—unless the divorcing couple agrees otherwise.

An example of community property would be a pension plan which you (or your spouse) acquired from a new job after marriage.

In some cases, you or partner may have a pension or retirement benefit from a job held before and during the marriage. In such a scenario, contributions made to the plan before the marriage are considered as separate property while the contributions made after the date of marriage and before separation are considered as community property.

Regardless of however the pension plans and retirement savings are to be divided in a divorce, couples must specify the details in a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which must then be signed by the judge for approval.

It’s imperative that a QDRO should be prepared by a lawyer, for if there are any errors in the application, there can be harmful results.

If you and your partner are splitting up and need help with determining how your pension plans and retirement savings should be divided, contact our expert California family law attorneys today. Our California family-law attorneys will guide you through the process and make sure your assets are fairly divided.


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