San Antonio Attorneys for Public Employee Retirement Accounts in Divorce
Despite your best efforts at saving your marriage, you and your spouse have decided to part ways. An emotional ordeal, to say the least, divorce upends an entire family’s life and greatly impacts each spouse’s future, particularly with regard to finances. You worked hard during your marriage, and you have the right to retain your fair share of the marital assets.
You likely understand that the family home, any vehicles you have, and any cash in your bank accounts will have to be accounted for during the property division proceedings. However, you may not know that there are other accounts you are entitled to during the asset division process, and the state’s public employee retirement account may be one of them.
If your spouse works (or worked) for the state of Texas in any capacity, they are probably enrolled in the Employee Retirement System of Texas (ERS). A mandatory plan for most state workers, the ERS provides employees of Texas with retirement benefits and access to other programs to help with retirement savings, such as 401(k) accounts and more.
As the spouse of a state worker, you are entitled to your share of the ERS funds along with the other assets you two shared when you were married. Since the process of obtaining your rightful share of these funds can be complex, you need an attorney experienced with the Texas ERS program who can explain your rights and options and advocate on your behalf.
Here at Higdon, Hardy & Zuflacht, L.L.P., our San Antonio retirement division attorneys have decades of combined legal experience, and our firm’s founding partners hold certifications from the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Family Law. We will sit with you and carefully explain your options regarding the Texas Employee Retirement System and any other retirement plans you and your spouse have. You can rely on us to be there for you each step of the way to increase your chances of obtaining the positive results you expect and deserve. To get started, you can contact us at (210) 349-9933 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation.
The Employee Retirement System of Texas
The Employment Retirement System of Texas (ERS) is a mandatory program that most state employees pay into while they are working. The plan then provides a retirement annuity for the rest of the employee’s non-working life to help them through their golden years.
The program is a retirement component in addition to, not in lieu of, Social Security retirement benefits. The ERS is broken down into three distinct areas:
- Retirement for employees of the state of Texas – The state mandates all eligible employees who work for the state of Texas to contribute to the ERS throughout their tenure. The program offers annuity disbursements upon the employee’s retirement.
- Texa$aver℠ and other benefits – Since many retirees struggle to maintain a reasonable standard of living after retirement using only Social Security and pension benefits, Texas offers the Texa$aver℠ program that includes access to 401(k) and 457 retirement plans to give employees access to more tax-deferred accounts that can supplement their retirement income.
- TRS and ORP – As part of the ERS, Texas also offers the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and the Optional Retirement Program to employees, retirees, and their family members who retired from a participating university or college.
The Texas ERS covers all employees of the state, including law enforcement officers, school employees, judges, and even elected officials. Employees are automatically enrolled in the program within the first month of their employment or appointments. Employees cannot withdraw funds from the account while they are working, and they must be enrolled in the system at least 90 days before the date of their planned retirement. The state of Texas has additional information on its website regarding the ERS program and how to apply for retirement benefits.
Ensure You Get Your Rightful Share
When you and your spouse first wed, you likely had no anticipation that your marriage would end in divorce. Nevertheless, here you are, and you have a lot of questions about the share of marital assets you can retain. The attorneys of Higdon, Hardy & Zuflacht, L.L.P. have in-depth knowledge of all areas of property division, and you can count on us to be a strong and tireless advocate for you throughout the process.
As with most other types of retirement accounts, the ERS of Texas does not allow members to withdraw funds from the account before retirement. Like with 401(k)s and other retirement instruments, members who withdraw funds early will receive stiff penalties in the form of fees along with certain tax penalties. Since neither you nor your spouse is close to retirement, how can you get the funds you are entitled to?
In divorce, retirement accounts are subject to division just like other assets. In order to get around the built-in early withdrawal penalties so that spouses can obtain their appropriate share of marital retirement funds, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allows divorcing parties to create a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). According to the IRS, the QDRO “is a judgment, decree or order for a retirement plan to pay child support, alimony or marital property rights to a spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent of a participant.”
In order to be valid, a QDRO must comply with various laws and regulations that govern domestic relations, marital property, and retirement property in the state where the divorce is taking place. This includes compliance with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and other regulations. There are also other aspects to consider with a QDRO, such as determining an alternative payee and more.
Turn to Us for Help
You likely have a lot of questions regarding your options for receiving your spouse’s retirement benefits, including their current or future annuities from the Employment Retirement System of Texas. For help with this as well as drafting a QDRO and managing other asset distribution issues pertaining to your divorce, you can contact the San Antonio retirement division attorneys of Higdon, Hardy & Zuflacht, L.L.P. to schedule a consultation. We have years of experience helping our clients with their QDROs, retirement account issues, and other matters related to property division in their divorce.
To speak with us, you can call us at (210) 349-9933, or you can complete our contact form so we can schedule an appointment for you with one of our attorneys.