I’m getting divorced. When will I get my husband’s pension?


Q. After 19 years of marriage I’m getting divorce and my husband has a private pension through his employment. I’m asking for whatever I’m entitled to. I met with my lawyer, who says that I would start getting the pension after he dies. He has been receiving pension payments since January 2021 and he’s still working. Does this sound right? After the divorce, how would I even know when he dies or how to get a death certificate? I need a second option.
— Asking for help

A. It’s always smart to get a second opinion.

New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, which means that marital property is divided equitably upon divorce – or fairly.

“Marital property” is defined as the assets and debts acquired or earned during the course of the marriage, either individually or jointly, said Jeralyn Lawrence, a family law attorney with Lawrence Law in Watchung.

This includes real property, personal property, retirement accounts and bank accounts, as well as mortgages, loans and revolving debt.

“Specific to your circumstances, you are inquiring as to your entitlement to your husband’s pension after 19 years of marriage, which pension has already gone into `pay status,’” Lawrence said. “We consider a pension in `pay status,’ when the participant/member to the pension is eligible for, and begins receiving, payment distributions from the pension plan.”

The equitable distribution of pensions, whether through private employment or public entities, is determined by the type of plan or pension and, therefore, the specific formula used to equitably distribute this asset, Lawrence said.

A pension is a defined benefit plan and generally will pay out a specified monthly amount upon retirement or upon eligibility to receive payment distributions, typically based upon factors such as age, the life expectancy of the participant/member, future salary and/or years of service with the company, she said.

“When a pension is subject to equitable distribution as part of a divorce, the marital portion of the pension must be defined, which is known as the marital coverture fraction,” she said. “The numerator of this fraction is the total number of months married while your husband was employed and participating in the plan, and the denominator is the total number of months of service with the company.”

At the time of the divorce, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) can be prepared. It will dictate the division of the pension so that you receive your share of this asset, she said.

“If the plan permits, it may be possible that your monthly benefit from this asset can commence upon the effectuation of the QDRO,” she said. “However, it may be necessary for you to consult the summary plan description associated with this pension to have a better understanding of an alternate payee’s/non-member-spouse’s eligibility to receive a portion of this specific pension, as pensions are often subject to certain regulations and guidelines that determine eligibility of the benefit for both participants/members and alternate payees/non-member-spouses.”

You should get a copy of the summary plan description to get a more accurate and comprehensive understanding of your interest in the pension.

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This story was originally published on Sept. 24, 2021. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.