Splitting a Police Officer Retirement Account

For law enforcement officers, it is effective to think about your retirement as a stool. Our stool has three legs and in the case of your retirement can consist of retirement from the state of Texas, Social Security benefits as well as savings. The state of Texas offers 401K and 457 programs that allow you multiple methods to save money throughout your working life. No matter what we see with inflation or other considerations over the next few years it is safe to say that it is better to have multiple methods of saving for retirement than just lying upon one.聽

Retirement planning for law enforcement officers

Securing your financial future, it鈥檚 something that you are certainly capable of as a law enforcement officer. Nobody knows how to better take the bull by the horns and make a positive change than a law enforcement officer. As a result, there are certain steps that you can take both in the short and long term to provide for yourself and your family at retirement. The Texas employee retirement system bases members鈥 lifetime retirement payments on various formulas and guidelines set forth by the state legislature of Texas.

Whether you are a law enforcement officer or another public sector employee some different rules and calculations apply to your benefits. In today鈥檚 blog posts from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, we are going to walk through some of these rules and calculations to help you better understand what is relevant to you regarding retirement as a law enforcement officer. Our attorneys and staff take a great deal of pride in being able to represent those people such as yourself who defend our community.聽

Feel free to reach out to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today if you want to learn more about divorce as a law enforcement officer. Our licensed and experienced family law attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week at our three scenario locations, over the phone and via video. During these consultations, you can learn more about Texas family law and how filing for divorce or child custody may impact your family鈥檚 circumstances.

Dividing retirement benefits in a divorce聽

For many of you reading this blog post, your pension or other retirement accounts may be the most asset that you have. Unfortunately, the problem that many people run into who go through a divorce is that they have not considered the outcomes that are possible regarding dividing retirement benefits in a divorce case. Many people overlook or fail to properly consider the subject of retirement benefits because they perceive other issues to be equally important.聽It is not uncommon to find someone who is unaware that retirement benefits or even subject to division in a Texas divorce.

If you are a law enforcement officer, then your spouse will likely be eligible for a portion of your retirement savings in a divorce scenario. Retirement accounts and pension plans are subject to division as part of the community estate. A family court judge will determine how to divide retirement accounts and the rights of you and your spouse to those accounts. Factors such as the length of your marriage, your tenure in law enforcement, and other aspects of your case will influence the division of benefits.

Understanding Defined Contribution Plans

A defined contribution plan is one of the types of retirement accounts that you as a law enforcement officer may have available to you. These types of retirement accounts contributed to buying you and holding assets as a result. The value of these types of defined contribution accounts is based on the amount of money you have contributed over the years as well as growth in the investments. Examples of defined contribution accounts include 401 K and individual retirement accounts.

You should generally consider contributions made to defined contribution accounts during your marriage as Community property. An increase in the value of your defined contribution accounts during remarriage is also classified as Community property. What does this all mean? The bottom line is that Community property is subject to division in Texas divorce cases. The division considers the funds accumulated during the marriage, irrespective of the account holder or the income used for contributions.

Exploring Defined Benefit Retirement Accounts

The other main type of retirement account that you should be aware of is a defined benefit account. A defined benefit account would provide you with a certain sum of money for a period during retirement. A formula based on the duration of your service in a specific employment role and your salary typically determines the sum of money.聽This means that the longer you have worked for a particular organization or entity and the more money you have made equates to your being able to receive more money every year for a longer period.

The same rule applies to a defined contribution plan as we see here for a defined benefit plan. In your divorce, a family court judge will determine how to divide up retirement accounts and what rights you and your spouse have to those various accounts. The length of your marriage, length of service in law enforcement, and other factors of your case will ultimately determine how your benefits are divided.聽Rather, a defined benefit account puts you in a position where you are having to estimate but the defined benefit will be years into the future and then divide up the account accordingly.

How do the Community property rules of Texas impact the retirement division?

We have already covered how Texas is a community property state. The rules of Community property division and in Texas divorce also relate to retirement plan division. If, for instance, you are attempting to make an argument that the property in an account is your separate property then you will need to be able to provide proof to the family court that this is the case. Oftentimes this can be one of the more complicated and time-consuming aspects of the entire Community property section of your divorce. A forensic accountant or another expert can assist in tracing the origins of your account and determining its value at the time of marriage.

Assets in your retirement accounts earned during the marriage are classified as community property and subject to division in your divorce, as previously explained. This is true whether we are talking about a pension or a 401K account. During your divorce case, specific retirement benefits will require detailed consideration.聽Law enforcement officers oftentimes receive pensions through their employer that also have specific tax implications and other difficulties in properly considering their value.

Understanding the Impact of Defined Contribution Plans like 401(k)

On the other hand, a defined contribution plan like a 401K where you contribute money, and your employer may match that contribution means that your contributions would occur regularly. Not only is the principal amount in the 401K subject to division but also any growth and interest gained within the account on top of that. Depending upon your age, the actual principal amount that you have contributed yourself may be relatively small whereas the growth after contribution could be the lion鈥檚 share of the account.聽

There is also something called a deferred compensation account that you should be aware of regarding divorce as a law enforcement officer. This is a type of defined benefit plan where your employer would promise you a specific amount of money monthly during your retirement years. In the alternative, a lump sum could be paid to you upon retirement based on your earning history, age as well as the length of time that you worked for that employer.

Choosing the Right Retirement Plan

If you are just beginning your time as a law enforcement officer, then you may be considering what plan works best for you and what options you have in front of you. Nothing that you read in this blog post should be taken as investment advice or instruction on how to proceed in terms of selecting a vehicle for retirement savings. Rather you can consider the information contained in today鈥檚 blog post and then you should contact an investment professional for assistance if he believed that is what you need. Your employer may provide you with investment assistance or your employer may do so, as well.

A Texas family law court has the authority to award your spouse a portion of your pension plan based on the present value of the pension or to award you and your spouse a proportionate share of whatever benefits are in the account at the time of retirement. Usually, pensions have a lower than market average rate of growth in terms of interest. You can look through your pension plan, but it is not uncommon for a pension plan to only have 7 to 8% growth year over year on average. Understand, however, that whatever growth is seen in the account will be treated as Community property and will be subject to division in your divorce.

Figuring out how to best work with your spouse on a division of your various retirement accounts

Fortunately for you and your spouse, you two will have a significant amount of autonomy and authority when it comes to figuring out how to divide your retirement accounts. Many people assume that the family court judge will have the most authority when it comes to dividing up Community property in general and retirement savings specifically. The divorce process in Texas allows for a relatively large amount of downtime that is suitable for negotiation. Negotiations like this can occur informally between the two of you or formally in a setting known as mediation.

The circumstances that you are going through will play a role in helping to determine whether retirement is a subject that you can solve quickly or one that will take a great deal of negotiation one way or the other. One situation in option that could be utilized by you and your spouse when it comes to dividing up retirement accounts would include not doing anything with them.

Agreement to Leave Retirement Savings Untouched

By this, I mean that you and your spouse could both agree to leave the other person鈥檚 retirement savings alone and not divide them up in the divorce. We see this happening in situations where both you and your spouse have sizable retirement accounts in your name. If you all are divorcing on good terms and can work together on subjects like this, then simply leaving your retirement accounts alone and focusing your time and energy on other subjects may be the best bet.

Working with your retirement account advisor and plan administrator can allow you to accurately divide up under retirement plan in your name or the name of your spouse with relatively little acrimony. You will need to determine what the current value of the account is and then figure out what portion is part of the community state and what portion is part of your separate estate if any. A qualified domestic relations order will outline how the Community property will be divided. You need to contact your plan administrator to see what language needs to be included in the qualified domestic relations order before the end of the divorce. Including incorrect language or otherwise not preparing can mean delays or an inability to divide retirement benefits accurately.

Exploring Retirement Savings Options in Divorce

Depending upon your age and circumstances it may also be an option for you all to consider liquidating some portion of your retirement savings. If the divorce proceedings determine that your retirement account is subject to division, you may have the option, depending on your age, to withdraw funds to meet the negotiated settlement standard.聽If permitted by your plan and financially feasible, you can make a lump sum payment to your spouse.

You should contact your plan administrator before agreeing to any considerations like this to determine the potential consequences of your taking money out of the account. From some retirement plans, you are not able to liquidate the account until you turn age 59.5. liquidating the account before that time means you would incur a tax on the account as well as a penalty of up to 10%. This could make it cost-prohibitive for you to select this option. However, if you are already of retirement age and do not have an account that bears any consequences outside of taxes for liquidating the account then you may choose to take advantage of this option.

Considering Alternatives to Splitting Retirement Accounts

Another method of dividing a retirement account that may be effective for you and your spouse to consider would be to offer in exchange for other marital property for retirement savings. For instance, if you do not want to go through the hassle of dividing up your retirement, you may choose to negotiate with your spouse and tell him or her that you are willing to assign him or her an equal share of Community property outside of retirement that is equal to their portion of your retirement savings.

The math may work out, for example, where if your spouse is choosing to remain in the family home you could simply choose not to take any equity out of the home yourself and instead leave it all for your spouse. That would allow your spouse to receive property in the divorce and you would not need to divide up your retirement to get him or her that property.

All these options are better understood and more thoroughly discussed when you have an experienced family law attorney by your side to guide you through the process. If you have questions about anything you have read today, please do not hesitate to contact our attorneys through our website or by phone.

Questions about the material contained in today鈥檚 blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today鈥檚 blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas family law as well as about how your family circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a divorce or child custody case.

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  1. How Can Retirement Get Split in a Divorce?
  2. Retirement Plan Division 鈥 The Basics
  3. Dividing Retirement Benefits Upon Divorce
  4. Retirement planning in a Texas divorce: a quick checklist to prepare for your case
  5. Essential knowledge for retirement savings in your post-divorce life
  6. Purchasing a home after divorce and a Primer on saving for retirement
  7. Retirement should be high on your list of priorities during your divorce
  8. Completing the Divorce- Handling Retirement and Avoiding Last Minute Problems
  9. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and your Divorce: Taxes and General Information
  10. The United States Supreme Court Answers a Question about Military Retirement Benefits
  11. Qualified Domestic Relations Order QDRO

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