The law firm of Plog & Stein, P.C. practices solely family law in the Denver, Colorado area. As a divorce attorney in Denver, I handle all aspects of such cases, including the division of marital property. Though some have been depleted, or gone up and down and up and down over the last 3 years, many people still have retirement accounts that will need to be divided as part of the divorce process. This posting will focus on the division of three types of retirement plans: IRA's, 401K's, and pensions.
Though the Denver divorce lawyers at Plog & Stein do not give tax advice, we do know a little bit about the subject as relates to divorce. Pursuant to the IRS tax code, transfers of property indicent to a divorce are generally not considered a taxable event. However, there are certain procedures that generally go along with the division of the above stated retirement accounts that are designed to ensure that the division does not become taxable.
IRA's, or individual retirement accounts, are retirement accounts given certain tax status depending upon when funds are pulled out. If funds are pulled out before a certain retirement age, there may be tax consequences and penalties. In a divorce case, the marital portion of an IRA will need to be divided. If the plan holder just pulls out funds to pay his or her spouse out, he or she will be taxed and potentially penalized for the withdrawal. As such, the proper way for an IRA to be divided as part of a divorce is for the recipient to have the funds transferred or rolled over into another IRA or similar qualifying account set up for him or her. In this instance, the original plan holder is not taxed. Once the recipient receives his or her funds, he or she is free to do with them as he or she choose. If the recipient elects to cash out his or her funds, then a tax consequence and potential penalty may ensue.
401K's are another type of retirement account often owned by parties to a divorce. A 401K is what is technically called a "defined contribution plan." 401K's are similar to IRA's in that they are a lump sum account, with a cognizable value. As with IRA's, when dividing up a 401K as part of a divorce, funds cannot just be withdrawn to pay the other spouse. Rather, 401K's are generally divided through what is called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO. A QDRO is a specific order, ultimately signed off on by the court, instructing the plan or plan administrator to divide the 401K in a specific manner. Most plans have specific language that is required under the terms of the plan. The division of the 401K through a QDRO prevents the original plan holder from incurring tax or penalty consequences, which can be up to 40% of the withdrawal. The recipient of funds through the QDRO transfer can then elect to have his or her share put into a similar type of account or to cash them out via the transfer. Cashing out will lead to the tax/penalty consequence for the recipient on his or her share.
Most Denver family law attorneys dealing with property division do not actually draft QDRO's. Why? Because they are very technicality laden and, frankly, most of us don't know how. As such, in most cases, the actual drafting if farmed out to an expert QDRO drafter, whether an attorney or an accountant. The cost of the QDRO can range from roughly $400 to $800 depending on who is used, and is generally going to be split equally between the parties.