Posted on January 2, 2018

What will happen to my 401k or pension in my Chicago, Illinois Divorce?

After child custody and support issues are settled, the next question on most divorcing peoples minds is ‘What will happen to my 401k or pension in my divorce?”

As with any property in the marriage, the first order of business is to determine whether the property is marital or non-marital. If the property is marital the property will be subject to division in the divorce.  If the property is non-marital, the party who has the property in their name or possession shall keep that non-marital property in whole after the divorce.

401k and other retirement funds are treated very differently from other funds, marital or non-marital, in a Chicago, Illinois divorce.

750 ILCS 503(a)(6) even outlines this specific exception in defining marital property as:property acquired before the marriage, except as it relates to retirement plans that may have both marital and non-marital characteristics

The reason for this special exception is that 401ks, pensions and retirement funds are often a mix of marital and non-marital property.  For example, you may have put in $ 10,000 into your retirement account before marriage but put $ 90,000 into your retirement account after the marriage.  But that doesnt necessarily mean that 10% of your retirement account is non-marital.

Retirement accounts are full of stocks and other assets that can behave strangely.  The initial non-marital contribution could have been invested in Google or some other asset that became extremely valuable while the marital contribution could have been invested in real estate stocks before 2008.   You can see how a scenario like this would create a split between non-marital and marital portions of the retirement fund that are not equal to the contributions (in the above case 10% vs 90%).

How do we figure out what the non-marital vs. marital contribution split is, then?

The good news is we dont have to.  The retirement fund does it for us.  In the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage or the Marital Settlement Agreement (a document that accompanies the Judgment of Dissolution) we include the following language:

Upon entry of Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage the parties agree that the marital portion of each of the above retirement accounts shall be divided equally (50/50) between the parties by Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). The amount awarded to each by said QDRO shall be offset by any loans taken against the retirement accounts and any money withdrawn from said accounts during the marriage.

The marital portion is then determined by the retirement fund through a form they issue called a QDRO, or Qualified Domestic Relations Order.  Every fund has a sample QDRO that they distribute to divorce attorneys that lets them determine the marital portion.  Typically, all they need is the date of the marriage and the date of the divorce.  This chunk of time will be considered the marital portion.  The fund will then use actuarial software to determine exactly what was contributed when and what that property is worth today.

Keep in mind that the marital portion is considered, by default, all assets deposited into the fund during the marriage.  This includes after the separation and during the pendency of the divorce. Perhaps it would be wise to limit your contributions during this time.  Of course, this can be negotiated away, you can ask for a legal separation or the parties can ask the judge to consider post separation assets non-marital.

Determining the marital portion of a pension is particularly difficult. “In those instances where it is difficult to place a present value on the pension or profit sharing interest due to uncertainties regarding vesting or maturation,…the trial court in its discretion may award each spouse an appropriate percentage of the pension to be paid ‘if, as and when’ the pension becomes payable.” In re Marriage of Hunt, 78 Ill. App. 3d 653, 663 (1st Dist. 1979)

You must also consider that there are many retirement funds that are not-divisible.  For example, railroad employees have a special federal pension wherein their spouse also has a pension which is included in the retirement package.  Because of this consideration to the spouse federal law makes it illegal to divide up the actual railroad employees personal pension.

Some lawyers prepare their own QDROs.  Other lawyers send them to QDRO specialists to prepare.  I myself, prepare about 80% of the QDROs and refer out the particularly byzantine QDROs to a specialist who has experience with that particular fund.

Social security is not an asset and is not touchable in a divorce.  So, at the very least, you’ll always have that.

Withdrawals from retirement accounts are taxed at the time of withdrawal because the taxes were deferred. This makes withdrawals look like income for the purposes of awarding child support and maintenance. Withdrawals from a retirement account are not be treated as income, however, in an Illinois divorce. “When an individual withdraws money he placed into an IRA, he does not gain anything as the money was already his. Therefore, it is not a gain and not income. The only portion of the IRA that would constitute a gain for the individual would be the interest and/or appreciation earnings from the IRA.” In re Marriage of O’Daniel, 382 Ill. App. 3d 845, 850 (Ill. App. Ct. 2008)

Contact my Chicago, Illinois office to learn more about how your retirement fund will be divided in your pending divorce.

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Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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