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Understanding the division of retirement benefits

Between pensions, individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s, it can be quite complicated to determine how retirement funds will be divided in a New York divorce. Currently, pension benefits are often divided by using what is known as the Majauskas Formula. This formula was established in Majauskas v. Majauskas in the State Court of Appeals. If the parties negotiate a different equitable distribution choice or the court modifies the formula, a different amount of the pension may be awarded to the ex-spouse.

The Majauskas formula gives the ex-spouse half of the pension that was earned during the marriage. The years of service credit that were built up during the marriage is multiplied by 50 percent. That total is then divided by the total service credit when the person retires.

Other choices include a flat dollar amount, a share calculated as of a certain date and a modification to the Majauskas formula. A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is used to lay out exactly how much the ex-spouse will receive. A QDRO can be very complex, too, and there are specific legalities that must be followed when it is drawn up. An attorney is needed during this step of your divorce and he or she needs to be experienced in completing QDRO forms.

Divorce isn't easy, but when a couple can amicably negotiate the terms of property division, child custody, child support and alimony, the process can be much less difficult to go through. Your divorce lawyer can provide more information on dividing pensions and other retirement funds so that you receive the portion you are entitled to.

Source: Office of the New York State Comptroller, "Guide to Domestic Relations Orders," accessed Dec. 23, 2015

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