I’m divorced. For how long, and when, will my ex get my pension?

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Q. I am divorced and have a good New York City civil servant position with a good pension. I filed for divorce before my eighth year of the job and we were married for four years prior to my employment with the city. So I stopped the clock right before the eight-year mark and the divorce was finalized three years after. At any point that I should retire, how many years after does she collect the pension? Is it until I pass or is there a certain number of years?
— Still working

A. We’re sorry to hear about your divorce.

Because every divorce is fact-specific, we recommend you speak to the attorney who handled your case if you need more clarification on your agreement.

But here’s what to consider.

As part of every divorce, assets and debts acquired during the marriage are to be equitably distributed, said Jeralyn Lawrence, a family law attorney with Lawrence Law in Watchung.

If you acquired a pension during your marriage, when you divorced, your ex-wife was probably entitled to receive a share of the marital portion of that pension, she said.

“If that occurred, and the pension was divided following your divorce via Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), when the pension goes into pay status and checks are sent from the plan administrator, your share will be paid directly to you as the participant, and your ex-wife’s share will be paid directly to her as the alternate payee,” she said.

Time frame for your ex-wife’s share of your pension will be specifically explained in the Summary Plan Description associated with your pension, she said.

Typically, she said, an alternate payee will only be eligible to receive his or her share of a pension once the participant becomes eligible to receive the pension, at which time the pension would go into pay status.

Depending on the terms of the plan, the duration of the alternate payee’s payments may be until the participant’s death, the alternate payee’s death, or termination of the plan, Lawrence said.

That said, we encourage you to review your Summary Plan Description to determine how long your ex-wife will be eligible to receive her share of your particular pension, and also speak to an experienced family law attorney who can review your settlement agreement and the Summary Plan Description to understand how and under what circumstances the pension will continue to be paid.

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This story was originally published on Jan. 23, 2023.

NJMoneyHelp.com 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.