The New York State Court of Appeals has determined that retirement benefits are considered marital property and can be divided between you and your ex-spouse when the marriage ends. If you divorce, your retirement benefits could be affected in any of the following ways:
- Your ex-spouse may be entitled to a portion of your pension;
- You may be required to name your ex-spouse as a beneficiary of any pre-retirement death benefit payable;
- You may be required to elect a retirement option that provides a continuing benefit to your ex-spouse in the event of your death; and
- Your ex-spouse may be entitled to a portion of your cost-of-living adjustment.
Any division of your benefits must be stated in the form of a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) — a legal document that gives us specific instructions on how your benefits should be divided. However, it does not allow for a distribution of your pension until you actually retire, die or terminate membership.
The Retirement System offers an easy-to-complete online DRO template. The template is not required, but because the review process is simplified for submissions using the DRO template, we can complete our review faster if you use it. We will also need a certified copy of your divorce decree.
If you are divorced, it is especially important to review your beneficiary designations to ensure your benefits will be distributed according to your wishes. Effective July 7, 2008, beneficiary designations for certain benefits are revoked when a divorce, annulment or judicial separation becomes final. An exception applies if the terms of a DRO specify otherwise. Beneficiary designations may be revoked for the Ordinary Death Benefit, Cash Refund Initial Value option (Tier 1), Cash Refund Contributions option (Tiers 1 and 2) and Five and Ten Year Certain options. The Survivor Benefit beneficiary designations made by retirees who chose the Single Life Allowance option or certain alternative options may also be revoked.