The most important thing you need to know is that if you divorce, your ex-spouse may be entitled to a portion of your pension or other New York State & Local Retirement System (NYSLRS) benefits. But determining how to divide retirement assets in your NYSLRS plan as a result of a divorce can be complex. Knowing these five key points can provide some clarity:
NYSLRS Requires a Domestic Relations Order (DRO)
For divorcing NYSLRS members, any division of your retirement benefits must be stated in the form of a domestic relations order (DRO) – a court order issued after a final judgment of divorce that gives us specific instructions on how your benefits should be distributed to your former spouse.
Without A DRO, NYSLRS Will Not Provide Your Ex-Spouse Any Portion of Your Pension.
The pension that you receive is a benefit held in trust by NYSLRS and you are considered the beneficiary of that trust. You cannot assign retirement benefits to another person and, because NYSLRS has no legal relationship with an ex-spouse, no payments will be made to an ex-spouse based on a separation agreement or judgment of divorce alone.
Prepare the DRO before you finish the divorce
The DRO must be signed by a trial court judge and entered with the appropriate County Clerk’s Office before it can be implemented. Our Matrimonial Bureau may review your DRO for compliance with the law before you submit the draft order to the court. This way, if the DRO does not meet the requirements, you will have a chance to make revisions.
We require a certified copy of the signed DRO and a copy of your judgment of divorce prior to implementing the terms of the DRO. Payments to your ex-spouse will start when your retirement benefit is calculated and finalized, and will be retroactive to your date of retirement if we receive the DRO and judgment of divorce before your retirement benefit is finalized.
Change your beneficiary designations on your retirement benefits after your divorce.
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. Please read our Guide to Domestic Relations Orders and review our DRO FAQs before you finalize your divorce.
Contact an attorney with DRO experience
He or she can help you ensure the DRO you submit to the court fairly represents the intentions of the parties.
How Can NYSLRS Help?
We recently developed an online worksheet, which helps you create your own DRO easily in the proper format. Just enter your tier, plan, employment status and answer the questions that follow. Then, submit a copy of your proposed DRO to us for review before you submit it to the court. You can email it, along with scanned copies of your judgment of divorce, to our Matrimonial Bureau at firstname.lastname@example.org. DRO proposals that are prepared using this form will be given priority review.
If you have any questions about divorce and your benefits, please contact our Hearing Administration & Matrimonial Bureau staff by email at email@example.com, by writing to 110 State Street – Mail Drop 7-9, Albany, New York 12244, or by fax at 518-474-7794.