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Divorce and Your Benefits

Death and Survivorship Benefits

  1. Can an ex-spouse leave his or her share to someone else when he/she dies?
  2. I am a Participant with a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file and I have since remarried. The DRO requires me to elect a Joint Allowance (survivorship) option and designate my ex-spouse as beneficiary. Can I designate my current spouse for the remainder of my option benefit?
  3. I will be entitled to a portion of my ex-spouse’s retirement. Will I get this benefit for the rest of my life when he or she retires?
  4. My ex-spouse is retired and I am receiving a portion of his or her retirement. Will I get this benefit for the rest of my life?
  5. When I retired, I elected a Joint Allowance (survivorship) option and named my spouse as beneficiary. We are now divorced. Can I remove my ex-spouse from my option or change my option?
  6. I named my spouse as the beneficiary of my death benefit. Would a divorce, annulment or judicial separation affect that designation?
  7. When we were married, I had named my ex-spouse as one of two primary beneficiaries, but we have subsequently divorced. I understand that the designation of my ex-spouse is now revoked. Is the designation of my other primary beneficiary also revoked?
  8. What if the Participant fails to designate the ex-spouse as an option beneficiary when he or she retires?
  9. I am the ex-spouse of an active Participant. The Domestic Relations Order (DRO) entitles me to a share of his or her pre-retirement death benefit. Can I find out whether he or she has designated me as beneficiary?
  10. I am a Participant and have a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) which provides my ex-spouse with a Special Joint Allowance option upon my retirement. What does this mean?
  11. I am the ex-spouse of a deceased Participant. As the Participant’s option beneficiary, I receive a continuing benefit. Will I be eligible for Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)?
  12. What happens if I have a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file and my ex-spouse dies before I retire?
  13. How do you determine who pays for the cost of a Joint Allowance (survivorship) option?
  14. Can a Participant add a Pop-Up to his/her option election if there is a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file?
  1. Can an ex-spouse leave his or her share to someone else when he/she dies?

    No, an ex-spouse cannot designate a beneficiary to receive his or her share of the pension when he/she dies.

  2. I am a Participant with a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file and I have since remarried. The DRO requires me to elect a Joint Allowance (survivorship) option and designate my ex-spouse as beneficiary. Can I designate my current spouse for the remainder of my option benefit?

    No. There is no “remainder.” You can name only one beneficiary for an option that pays a lifetime benefit to another person. Under a Joint Allowance, your pension will be calculated based on your life expectancy and that of your option beneficiary as well as the amount of time the pension will be paid after your death. If the DRO permits you to elect an option that is not based on another individual’s life expectancy (such as a Certain Option or a Cash Refund Option), then you can name multiple beneficiaries.

  3. I will be entitled to a portion of my ex-spouse’s retirement. Will I get this benefit for the rest of my life when he or she retires?

    It will depend on the precise wording of the Domestic Relations Order (DRO). If the DRO requires the Participant to designate you as the beneficiary of a lifetime option, you will receive the benefit for your lifetime. If not, the Retirement System will not interpret the DRO to include it and your payments will terminate upon the Participant’s death.

  4. My ex-spouse is retired and I am receiving a portion of his or her retirement. Will I get this benefit for the rest of my life?

    It depends on whether he or she elected a Joint Allowance (survivorship) option naming you as beneficiary at the time of retirement. If the Participant did not elect a Joint Allowance, then all payments will end upon the Participant’s death. If the Participant did elect a Joint Allowance option at the time of retirement and you are the beneficiary, then you will continue to receive payments for your lifetime.

  5. When I retired, I elected a Joint Allowance (survivorship) option and named my spouse as beneficiary. We are now divorced. Can I remove my ex-spouse from my option or change my option?

    No. A retirement option becomes irrevocable 30 days after the date the retirement benefit is payable. With certain options, including the Joint Allowance options, the beneficiary designation is also irrevocable after the 30-day period.

  6. I named my spouse as the beneficiary of my death benefit. Would a divorce, annulment or judicial separation affect that designation?

    Effective July 7, 2008, the designation of your spouse as beneficiary of certain benefits is revoked if you get a divorce, annulment or judicial separation and we receive written notice, unless you have a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file that specifies otherwise. The designation is revoked regardless of when the final decree of divorce, annulment or judicial separation was entered.

    Designations affected are:

    • Pre-retirement Ordinary Death Benefit (all Tiers);
    • Post-retirement Ordinary Death Benefit (Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) Tiers 2, 3, 4 and 5);
    • Cash Refund Initial Value option (Tier 1);
    • Cash Refund Contributions option (Tiers 1 and 2);
    • Five and Ten Year Certain options (all Tiers);
    • Certain alternative options with beneficiaries that can be changed.

    If you wish to keep your ex-spouse as beneficiary, you must re-designate him or her after the date of the divorce, annulment, or judicial separation. Contact us for the appropriate form.

    If you and your ex-spouse remarry, the designation of your ex-spouse as beneficiary is reinstated, provided you have not made another designation during the time your marriage was dissolved.

  7. When we were married, I had named my ex-spouse as one of two primary beneficiaries, but we have subsequently divorced. I understand that the designation of my ex-spouse is now revoked. Is the designation of my other primary beneficiary also revoked?

    The beneficiary form designating your ex-spouse is not void, only the designation of your ex-spouse is revoked. The designation of any other primary or contingent beneficiaries named on the form remains in effect. Therefore, a benefit would be payable first to any remaining primary beneficiaries named in a designation. If no other primary beneficiaries were named, the benefit would be payable to any contingent beneficiaries named in the designation. If your ex-spouse was the sole primary beneficiary named and no contingent beneficiaries were named, the death benefit would be payable to your estate.

  8. What if the Participant fails to designate the ex-spouse as an option beneficiary when he or she retires?

    If there is a valid Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file providing the ex-spouse with a Joint Allowance (survivorship) option benefit, the Retirement System will require the Participant to make that election before processing his or her retirement.

  9. I am the ex-spouse of an active Participant. The Domestic Relations Order (DRO) entitles me to a share of his or her pre-retirement death benefit. Can I find out whether he or she has designated me as beneficiary?

    If you send a written request to our Matrimonial Unit, their response will let you know if you are a designated beneficiary. The Retirement System will not, however, provide you with the identities of any other designated beneficiaries.

  10. I am a Participant and have a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) which provides my ex-spouse with a Special Joint Allowance option upon my retirement. What does this mean?

    When you retire, the Retirement System will calculate the precise amount of your ex-spouse’s marital share, and your ex-spouse will receive this share for the duration of his or her life. For example, if your ex-spouse was entitled to a 33 percent share of the pension, the Retirement System will continue to pay this amount for the duration of your ex-spouse’s life, even if you predecease him or her.

  11. I am the ex-spouse of a deceased Participant. As the Participant’s option beneficiary, I receive a continuing benefit. Will I be eligible for Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA)?

    No. To be eligible for COLA, an option beneficiary must be a spouse at the time of the Participant’s death. Even if a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) entitled an ex-spouse to COLA from the Participant’s monthly retirement benefit while the Participant was alive, he or she will not be entitled to COLA after the Participant has died and the option benefit is paid.

  12. What happens if I have a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file and my ex-spouse dies before I retire?

    The DRO will be vacated upon the death of your ex-spouse. You will need to provide the Retirement System with a certified copy of the death certificate. If your ex-spouse dies after you retire, distributions to him or her will cease when we receive a copy of the death certificate. Your ex-spouse’s payments will then revert back to you.

  13. How do you determine who pays for the cost of a Joint Allowance (survivorship) option?

    The terms of the Domestic Relations Order (DRO) will dictate who pays for the cost of the option. Either party can bear the entire cost of the option or it can be shared proportionately.

  14. Can a Participant add a Pop-Up to his/her option election if there is a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) on file?

    Yes, a Participant may add a pop-up feature to his/her option election at his/her own expense. If the option beneficiary dies before the Participant, the Participant’s monthly benefit will be increased to the amount payable under the Single Life Allowance and continue until the Participant’s death.