Divorce or Dissolution of Domestic Partnership
Life brings many changes. To name a few: changes in sleeping patterns; changes in eating patterns; and changes in finances. One change that some of us may face, is divorce or state-registered domestic partnership dissolution. When that happens, your ACERA benefits may be impacted.
Your Ex-Spouse/Partner May Seek Division of Your Retirement Benefit
If your marriage or state-registered domestic partnership overlapped with your ACERA service, there is certainly a chance that your spouse/partner (soon to be ex-spouse/partner) will seek a division of your ACERA benefit monthly retirement allowance, so as to distribute his/her community property from that payment. The division and distribution of community property from your ACERA benefit is something ACERA has experience with.
ACERA Only Shares Your Information With Your Authorization
The first thing to remember is, ACERA will not share your member information with anyone you have not authorized us to share it with. This means that even if you hire an attorney, actuary, or work with a mediator or facilitator, ACERA will not communicate with those persons or otherwise share information with those persons about your retirement benefits. In simple terms, your member records are confidential by Government Code section 31532 and ACERA will not release information unless you provide written (signed) authorization for that communication. You can use the Authorization to Release Information Form to provide that authorization. Fill this out, sign it and return it to us. This is the only way we will communicate with a third party about your ACERA benefits.
Getting a Written Property Estimate
The next thing to remember is that ACERA can provide you with a written community property estimate. This is an analysis and calculation of the amount your ex-spouse is eligible to receive as his or her distribution of community property, from your ACERA monthly retirement allowance. You can request this by completing and returning ACERA’s Community Property Estimate Form.
A Few Steps You Should Consider
If you file for divorce, you may want to consider taking the following steps:
- Contact an independent attorney experienced in family law matters.
- Refer to the ACERA Memorandum Divorce and ACERA Benefits.
- Update your plan beneficiary(ies), if necessary. Complete and return an ACERA Active or Deferred member Beneficiary Designation Form if you are not yet retired, or a Retired Member Beneficiary Designation Form if you are already retired.
- Act quickly to prevent delay in processing your retirement when you are ready to retire.
The Court May Make a Decision Regarding Your Retirement Benefits
In the event of your divorce or dissolution of state-registered domestic partnership, a court order may be made concerning your retirement benefits. For example, the court may issue a judgment in which community property interests in your retirement benefits are awarded to your ex-spouse, when the parties do not agree in writing in the final court judgment that your ACERA benefits are your sole and separate property.
If it is determined by the court or through an agreement between you and your ex-spouse/partner that ACERA benefits will be divided, two methods of payment are available:
- Separate Accounts - (This option is only available if you divorce or dissolve your domestic partnership before retirement.) This method divides the community property, including accumulated contributions, interest, and service credit, into two separate accounts, one for you and one for your spouse/partner. This option is not available after ACERA has begun retirement benefit payments to a member.
- Shared Accounts - Under this method, the account itself is not divided, however, the benefit payments are divided between you and your spouse/partner after you retire.
ACERA Needs Copies of Your Documents
The last thing we want to tell you is that you will need to share legal documents with ACERA, as well as complete certain legal documents that will become court orders when executed by the judge/court and filed in the divorce proceeding. A thorough description and explanation of those documents can be found in the Divorce and ACERA Benefits Memo. But these documents include:
- The judgment of divorce
- All attachments such as marital settlement agreements and property orders
If you get divorced or dissolve your domestic partnership prior to retirement, ACERA will need to have copies of the above documents on file BEFORE we can process your retirement.
We’re Here For You
In closing, retirement brings many changes. After years and years of work, your ability to adapt to change has already been tested. You can handle the marital status change with some help, support, and encouragement. If you’ve read the Divorce and ACERA Benefits Memo and have additional questions, ACERA has staff who can explain any of the documents and forms on our website relating to divorce and its impact on your ACERA benefits. Call us and ask to speak to the Legal Department regarding divorce.