The San Diego County Employees Retirement Association (SDCERA) has very specific guidelines regarding how to divide SDCERA benefits during divorce, pursuant to a Domestic Relations Order (DRO). Generally, a member’s spouse will have a community property interest in SDCERA benefits if the member worked for the County of San Diego during the parties’ marriage. As soon as a legal separation or marital dissolution action is filed, the parties should notify SDCERA in writing, especially if the nonmember believes that he/she has a community property interest in the member’s benefits.
Joinder is the legal process that names a third-party claimant to a court case. SDCERA requires a joinder to be filed and served on the plan before a Domestic Relations Order can be implemented. Joinder is the first step in obtaining an Order to divide SDCERA benefits. Joinder also notifies the plan of the nonmember’s interest and will ensure that the member cannot begin receiving payments until a DRO is in place or until the joinder is withdrawn.
The Domestic Relation Order (DRO)
A Domestic Relations Order is a document that is signed by all parties and a judge which identifies how retirement plan benefits should be divided. To be accepted by SDCERA, the DRO must meet certain legal requirements and comply with the terms of the retirement plan.
SDCERA Methods of Division
The methods of division available for SDCERA depend on the employee spouse’s (or member’s) status, i.e. whether the person is already retired or not.
Active and deferred (i.e. non-retired) members have two options for division of the member’s account: 1) Separate Account Method or 2) Shared Payment Method. With the Separate Account Method, the member’s service credit and contributions are divided into two separate accounts – one for the member, and the other in the name of the nonmember spouse. When the parties choose the Shared Payment Method, separate accounts are not created; instead, the nonmember receives a portion of each payment made to the Member after retirement. The other differences between these methods are summarized in the chart below.
|SEPARATE ACCOUNT METHOD
|SHARED PAYMENT METHOD
|Retirement date & receipt of benefit payment
|Each party decides independently when to apply for retirement and begin receiving monthly benefits from his/her account.The nonmember can retire either when he/she reaches the minimum age and service requirements to retire or when the member meets said requirements.
|The parties begin receiving benefits when the member retires.
|Both parties make independent benefit payment option elections.Nonmember can choose to receive a refund of the member’s accumulated contributions, plus interest, instead of a monthly benefit.
|Member MUST select Option 4 and name nonmember as a beneficiary, which provides the nonmember with a lifetime benefits based on his/her percentage interest in the member’s benefits. Nonmember will receive monthly benefit payments.
|What happens when either party dies PRIOR to retirement?
|On the member’s death, standard death benefits are available based on the years of service remaining in the member’s account.On the nonmember’s death, his/her beneficiary receives a refund of accumulated contributions.
|The nonmember will receive his/her community property percentage interest in the death benefits for life.The member can name another lifetime beneficiary (incl. a new spouse) for the remaining portion of benefits.Note: Many of these options will require an actuarial reduction in benefits.
|What happens when either party dies AFTER retirement?
|The continuance of benefit payments to the member’s or the nonmember’s beneficiaries depends on the option selected at retirement.
|When the member dies, nonmember’s benefit will not be affected by the member’s death. Further, member can name an additional beneficiary for member’s remaining interest.When the nonmember dies the benefits will stop unless an actuarial reduction was made for nonmember’s benefits to continue to member or another beneficiary.
Whatever method of division is chosen, the nonmember generally receives his/her community property interest of the benefits, i.e. he/she will receive one half of the contributions made from the date of marriage through the date of separation. However, benefits earned during the marriage do not have to be split this way, and the parties or court can decide on any other division possible under the terms of the plan.
Retirement Benefit Division for Dissolution of Domestic Partnership
Pursuant to Assembly Bill 205, which extends the rights and duties of marriage to individuals registered as domestic partners, SDCERA will allow a division of a member’s account due to the dissolution or legal separation of domestic partnership.
Request for Estimate / Statement of SDCERA Account Due to Legal Separation or Marital Dissolution
The contents of a member’s file are confidential and can only be provided to the member or the member’s authorized representative. In order for the nonmember to receive information about the Member’s account, SDCERA must be joined to the action, and either i) a subpoena duces tecum must be served or ii) the member must provide SDCERA with a written authorization to release information to the nonmember or the nonmember’s attorney. SDCERA has a release form that will allow the nonmember to receive an estimate/statement of account due to legal separation or marital dissolution. The form must be signed by the member, and can be obtained by calling SDCERA at 1-888-473-2372.
If you need assistance with an SDCERA DRO and/or joinder, please call QDRO Helper at 619-786-7376 today!
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