Divorce and Your Benefits

The Domestic Relations Order

The New York State Court of Appeals determined that Retirement System benefits constitute marital property and are subject to the equitable distribution provisions of the Domestic Relations Law (Majauskas v. Majauskas, 61 NY2d 481, 474 NYS2d 699). Therefore, we will honor a properly drawn Domestic Relations Order (DRO) issued by a New York State court. (For information about DROs issued by other states, see Out of State Orders.)

A Domestic Relations Order (DRO) is a court order issued after a final judgment of divorce that provides the ex-spouse of a Participant with a share of the Participant’s benefit upon retirement. The DRO may also require a Participant to designate the ex-spouse as a beneficiary of a pre-retirement death benefit, a post-retirement death benefit (if applicable) or as the beneficiary of the Participant’s retirement option.

Please note that, unlike a private pension plan, the rights of membership in the Retirement System belong only to the Participant. The spouse of a Participant has no statutory rights or protections. As a governmental plan, the Retirement System is exempt from the provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Retirement Equity Act of 1984 and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) that provide for Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) (see ERISA Section 4 (b) and IRC Section 414 (P) (9)). The spousal notification, spousal consent and surviving spouse protections of ERISA do not apply in the case of a state governmental plan. All rights given to an ex-spouse must be set forth explicitly in the DRO or they will not exist for him or her.