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What happens to retirement plans in a divorce?

When going through a divorce, it feels like there are countless things to keep track of. Some jump to mind immediately – child custody and child support, property division, impacts on the business. But there’s one thing that is easy to overlook: the retirement plan.

Yes, Georgia considers retirement accounts part of marital property, which can surprise people. That means their contents are potentially subject to the division process during a divorce. Here’s a quick overview of what to expect.

What types of retirement accounts are affected?

Georgia is an equitable distribution state, meaning the court divides assets from the marriage in a fair manner, based on the needs and circumstances of each individual. That includes things like real estate property, of course, but retirement accounts are also part of the equation.

This applies to all types of retirement accounts, whether a 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, pension plan, or something else. Keep in mind, only contributions made during the marriage count. So if someone had contributed to a 401(k) for a few years prior to getting married, those contributions would not be considered marital property.

How will retirement accounts be divided?

As mentioned above, the court’s goal is an equitable – not necessarily equal – distribution. The court will take a variety of factors into account when dividing the assets, including how particularly valuable property is divided, what each individual may need in the future, the financial contributions and status of each spouse and potentially even bad behavior on the part of one party.

When it’s all said and done, it’s possible a retirement account gets split between both spouses, or maybe one party gets a small portion of the contributions. It’s also possible the court decides a retirement account doesn’t need to be divided at all. The determination depends on many factors.

What else should I consider?

There are other things to keep in mind. For example, in some cases, splitting a retirement account may require the use of a special court order called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. And the longer the marriage, the more complicated trying to understand the value of some assets (such as a retirement plan) can be.

Maybe most importantly, many people count on that retirement account being ready when they need it. Losing some of it in a divorce can be a serious blow to one’s plans. It’s important to take steps to protect yourself for the future, no matter what comes.

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