Keeping Your Retirement in a Divorce May Require Help from a Qualified Divorce Attorney

When couples divorce, there are many issues that have to be resolved in the process. Many of these are financial matters, which can be rather complex. In Arizona, assets that the spouses accumulated while they were married (other than those assets acquired due to gift or inheritance) belong to both parties, and therefore are to be distributed equitably in a divorce. One of the most common concerns is keeping your retirement in a divorce. Retirement plans, IRAs and pensions are all gathering funds while you are married, and these funds may belong to both of you. This can create a very difficult and complicated situation that may require help from an experienced Arizona divorce attorney.

Types of Retirement Accounts

Not all retirement or pension accounts are the same. You need to understand the accounts that both you and your spouse have before you can determine how they will be divided. Spouses most often have retirement plans or pensions that are sponsored through their employer.  Common examples include a 401(k), 403(b), Arizona State Retirement System (“ASRS”), or the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (“PSPRS”).  An IRA is an individual retirement account, which is separate from those that are made through your place of work. Those who are self-employed, or have not been eligible for plans through their job, utilize IRAs.  IRAs are also taken out by couples wishing to diversify their asset portfolio even when they do have a work-sponsored plan.


As part of the divorce proceedings, spouses may need to include a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) as part of their final documents. A QDRO is a legal order that specifies how a retirement plan qualified by the IRS is to be divided. A QDRO is required to divide 401(k)s, pensions, and the like, and can be used to divide these accounts without having to incur tax or withdrawal penalties. Other accounts may require other specified orders.  For example, military retirement accounts require a Military Domestic Relations Order.  Some accounts simply need very clear roll-over language.  Your attorney will be able to guide you as to what will be required.

Get Information

It is essential that you gather all information about all the retirement and pension accounts that belong to both you and your spouse. Remember that you may have some retirement accounts from previous employment, which will need to be reviewed. You will need to get official data about the accounts including when they were opened, how much money was put into them and when it was put in, and the current value of the account. Receiving this information could take some time, so you should request it as early as you can.

Help from a Qualified Divorce Attorney

Once you have all the data for every retirement account, couples must now split up the funds. This can become a very complex situation, especially if couples were previously married, or have several or more accounts. When both couples have similar funds, it can streamline the process because the accounts can “off-set” against each other. However, if one party has a large retirement account and the other doesn’t have one, the money that accumulated during the marriage will need to be divided equitably. Because of the complexity of these matters, it is advisable to discuss your accounts with your divorce attorney as soon as possible.

This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice regarding Keeping Your Retirement in a Divorce, or any other family law issue, please feel free to contact Sheri D. Shepard at 480.461.5300, log on to, or contact an attorney in your area. Udall Shumway PLC is located in Mesa, Arizona and is a full service law firm. We assist Individuals, families, businesses, schools and municipalities in Mesa and the Phoenix/East Valley.