The end of a marriage is never easy, but when an overreaching ex tries to take away your crucial assets such as your 401k and retirement fund, the stress and anguish of this already difficult time are amplified. No one should have to worry about their retirement income after working and paying into a 401k their entire adult life. With representation from a qualified family law attorney, you can protect your assets and your future.
In general, anyone getting a divorce may be able to claim up to half of the value of their spouse’s 401k through the legal process of the division of marital property. Things are rarely so simple, however, and a neat 50/50 split is rarely the end result of a divorce. This is especially true in states like West Virginia, which operate under equitable distribution standards rather than community property law. This means that West Virginia courts are mandated to divide marital assets equitably rather than equally.
In the State of West Virginia, retirement accounts and pension plans are considered community marital assets if they were paid into during the marriage. This means that they must be evaluated and fairly distributed by a court of law pursuant to West Virginia’s equitable distribution practices.
West Virginia law does leave some room for judges to use their subjective judgment in finalizing court orders related to the division of assets. This can have important implications when it comes to your retirement and pension assets. For example, if you had a pre-existing 401k that was essentially fully funded prior to your marriage, and you only paid in a small amount or accrued nominal interest while married, you may be able to argue that the entirety of the asset should not be considered community marital property and therefore should not be subject to the division of assets. Your family law attorney can help you understand exactly what evidence and documentation would be needed to pursue such an argument.
Prenuptial contracts and other extraneous legal circumstances may also play a factor in dividing (or protecting) assets held in a 401k during the division of assets. It is recommended to consult a qualified family law attorney to review the full range of legal strategies available in your specific situation.
Protecting your assets during a divorce can be complicated. Judges are bound by law to divide marital assets equitably, which often means a 50/50 split of any assets accrued by either spouse during the marriage. This can include financial instruments, retirement savings, and investment accounts, even if they are held in only one person’s name. A skilled divorce lawyer may be able to help you build a case for leaving your 401k and other personal retirement accounts out of the process of dividing your marital property.
If your 401 k was established or funded during the time you were married, your spouse may have legal grounds to ask for the court to award them half of the account’s value. In some uncommon circumstances, such as a 401k that was established before you were married and which was not contributed to during your marriage, it may be possible to argue that the account is not reasonably considered joint marital property and therefore not subject to the process of legally dividing your shared marital assets.
Whether or not you have a legally viable claim to your spouse’s 401k or other investment and retirement accounts upon the dissolution of your marriage will depend on several factors, such as when and how the 401k was accrued (i.e., was the account funded during the marriage?) and what the judge deems an equitable division of marital resources. The value and extent of other assets involved can also play a factor in deciding which spouse is awarded a valuable account like a 401k. Sometimes this is a simple matter of mathematics, where a court is trying to reach that “equitable” standard, rather than a process of determining who has a better claim to each account and dividing the assets accordingly. If your spouse’s retirement account was fully or partially funded during your marriage and it can be reasonably argued that the funds were meant to provide for both of you after retirement, it is possible you would have a legal claim to a portion of the funds.
Depending on the nature of your assets, nearly everything of value must be considered when going through a divorce and, if necessary, protected with powerful legal planning. Especially in cases where a 401k was established or funded during a marriage, the fund is at risk of being split. When a judge is attempting to divide assets to meet the West Virginia standard of equitable distribution, it is often a matter of mathematics and making sure each party leaves the marriage with an equitable amount of assets. Which spouse has the better individual claim to a particular account is not always the key factor in who will be awarded which assets. If you feel your 401k is your sole individual property and should be left out of the division of marital property, a skilled family law attorney may be able to assist you in presenting this argument to the court.
The end of a marriage is a stressful and complicated time for everyone involved. Worrying about your financial future can exacerbate the emotional turmoil you’re already going through. If you are concerned about the future of your retirement funds or are being bullied by a greedy ex, we can help. Erica Lord Law Group will ensure you are treated fairly under West Virginia’s equitable distribution practices. Call us today for a no-obligation consultation.