How to Collect My Share of Retirement When Divorced

You may have to wait to collect your retirement money after divorce.

You may have to wait to collect your retirement money after divorce.

Pensions and retirement funds are typically marital assets and require division upon divorce. Once the divorce is final and your rights are determined, you’ll want to collect your share awarded in the divorce. You have two possibilities -- the funds may be available for immediate cash-out or you may have to wait for division when your spouse reaches retirement age.

Cashing Out

Contact your bank or financial institution and set up an IRA or retirement plan of your choosing. Establish an account number and prepare for a rollover of the retirement funds you will be receiving, so that you don’t pay taxes or penalties on the funds.

Contact the administrator of the old retirement account, 401(k) or IRA that you will be transferring the fund from. Provide a certified copy of your divorce decree along with your new account number, bank name and address so the retirement plan administrator can send funds to the bank as trustee for your account.

Keep in touch to see that the retirement plan administrator makes the transfer to the bank. Once it reaches your bank, contact your banker for a copy of the transaction for your files. You’ve collected the money once the retirement funds are in your new account.

Wait for Access

Review your divorce decree for provisions regarding your share of a pension plan as a non-participant. You may see language relating to “reservation of jurisdiction” and “defined benefit plan.” This means that the court retains power over this issue until it occurs and you don’t have access to the funds until your ex-spouse qualifies for them.

Forward a court-certified copy of your domestic relations order or divorce decree by certified mail to the pension or retirement plan and apply to the plan administrator to qualify your domestic relations order. The qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO, is the document that legally allows the plan administrator to disburse funds to you later. Make a copy of this document for your records.

Complete the application for benefits as soon as your ex-spouse qualifies. Make copies of all correspondence for your file. Send your application and a copy of the QDRO to the current administrator of the pension plan by certified mail, return receipt requested so you have a record of receipt. Wait for a response and provide any additional information needed.


  • Find Department of Labor Form 5500 for the pension plan in a searchable database at if you’ve lost touch with the plan administrator.
  • Contact the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation if the pension plan terminates before you get your retirement money. It maintains a website at


  • Contact the plan administrator with your new address if you move. If a plan terminates, the administrator may distribute funds early.
  • QDROs are complicated, and it's wise to seek professional legal advice if you need one.

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About the Author

Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.

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