Washington is one of few states that operates under community property guidelines for property division proceedings. This means that you and your spouse (or state-registered common law partner) will split all assets 50/50 if you decide to end your relationship. You’ll want to make sure you fully understand the implications of this, especially concerning retirements benefits.

Even if you are years away from retiring, you’re entitled to obtain information regarding any benefits that you or your spouse has earned. There are several ways to gain such information, one of which is to hire a legal representative to file a legal order to request documents from the appropriate parties. Some cases may be more complex than others, such as if you or your spouse have a right to retirement benefits through the U.S. military.

What type of benefits do you have and what is their present value?

When you finalize your divorce, you might have a right to benefits from various types of retirement accounts, such as 401(k), a pension or an employee stock option program. Some plans have protection under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). To obtain benefits from a plan protected by the ERISA in a divorce, a special court order known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is necessary.

In addition to a QDRO, you will also receive a Decree of Dissolution, which proves that your divorce is final in Washington. You must then submit the necessary documents to each retirement plan administrator to request the division of benefits according to Washington property division laws in a divorce. You won’t receive the money until such time as prescribed by the law or employer contract.

Some retirement benefits are separately owned property

The fact that Washington is a community property state in divorce doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to retain separate ownership of certain assets. Regarding retirement benefits, any benefits earned before your marriage, as well as those earned after you legally separated (if applicable), are separately owned assets. This means that they are not subject to division in a divorce.

To obtain the maximum benefits to which you may be entitled in your divorce, it’s imperative to seek clarification regarding any laws or regulations that are relevant to your case. Making a mistake when requesting benefits can not only cause you to receive less than you should, but it can also keep you from getting any benefits at all. When in doubt, do not hesitate to reach out for added guidance and support.