Washington is a community property state: A divorcing couple may find themselves dividing property and assets acquired during their marriage equally and in half. While it may seem relatively easy to combine property and then split everything between two spouses, the division can get complicated for individuals over the age of 50.
Commonly known as a “gray” divorce, a marriage that has lasted for decades may need specialized attention when dividing retirement accounts and income. As noted in Kiplinger magazine, pension plans and 401(k)s are subject to division during a divorce. Splitting up an employer-sponsored plan, however, may require a thorough understanding of how its rules apply to a joint account.
Spouse’s rights to retirement plans
Generally, both spouses have a right to the assets from a retirement plan in a community property state. Each spouse contributed to the household’s ability to contribute to the growth of the plan and generate its income.
If only one spouse worked during the marriage, the nonworking spouse still has a right to claim part of a retirement plan. His or her contribution of effort to the household provided the working spouse with the ability to earn income and pay into the account. Sometimes a nonworking spouse may receive a lump sum payment from a working spouse’s retirement plan as part of a divorce settlement.
Splitting Social Security benefits
Individuals over the age of 62 may receive Social Security retirement benefits after contributing to the fund through their payroll taxes. As noted by U.S. News & World Report, a nonworking spouse may be eligible to receive up to 50% of their working spouse’s benefits if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years. Because Social Security alone may not provide enough of an income on its own, a nonworking spouse may also request alimony or financial support.
Spousal maintenance and alimony
During a divorce, a nonworking spouse may request financial support or alimony payments from his or her soon-to-be ex-spouse. Depending on the length of the marriage and the lifestyle and ability of both spouses to work after the divorce, the court may order an award.