Domestic Relations Orders

How divorce could affect your benefits

Your pension from a Massachusetts Public Retirement System is generally considered a marital asset and, whether you are actively in service or receiving a retirement allowance, it is subject to valuation and division in a divorce. If your former spouse is named an "alternate payee" by the court, he or she may be entitled to receive a share of your retirement benefits at the time of your retirement pursuant to the terms of a domestic relations order (DRO).  What is a domestic relations order?

A domestic relations order—commonly known as a DRO—is a judgment, decree or order (including approval of a property settlement agreement) that sets out how a person's retirement benefits are to be allocated between parties who are in the process of divorcing or who are already divorced. A DRO must comply with all provisions of the public employee law, G.L. c. 32

Do I need to have a domestic relations order as part of my divorce?

Not all divorce settlements automatically include a DRO, and this is something that should be discussed in detail with your legal counsel. If your retirement allowance (or prospective retirement allowance) is to be divided between you and your ex-spouse, you need a Domestic Relations Order. If there is no Domestic Relations Order, then at the time of your retirement/termination we cannot divide the retirement allowance or refund of contributions.

What gives my ex-spouse the right to my retirement allowance? It comes from my work.

Your retirement allowance is considered a marital asset, just like your house, car, investments, or your ex-spouse's retirement allowance can be. The divorce court can divide the retirement allowance or leave it alone, as it sees fit. Most often, the divorce court endorses a property settlement agreed to by the parties. You need to obtain legal counsel to help you reach a fair property settlement.

I'm still working. Can my ex-spouse take part of my pension now?

No, unless you terminate your public employment and you take a withdrawal. The Domestic Relations Order will establish a formula for calculating how much of your future retirement allowance will be divided. Your ex-spouse can only get a share of your retirement allowance or refund when you apply for it and obtain your share.

To assist members and retirees contemplating divorce, a packet of materials including a sample Domestic Relations Order can be provided. This material is not meant to represent legal advice, which should only be provided by your legal counsel, but is merely an informative tool. Follow link for additional information relative to Domestic Relations Orders.