Divorce Saloon’s “Divorce Success Stories” Profiles Series: Meet our guest – Howard Phillips

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Introducing pension actuary Howard Phillips, author of DIVIDING RETIREMENT PLAN ASSETS IN A DIVORCE: A Concise, Comprehensive Pension Guide for People Getting Divorced.

Link:  http://divorcepensionrights.com

After about 25 years of being involved with dividing retirement plan assets in a divorce and seeing how the parties and their advisors are not very knowledgeable about how and when this division should be accomplished, I found that there was a need for a concise, comprehensive guide for this part of divorce settlement negotiations.

My paperback book and e-book (available on Amazon.com) provide answers to the most important issues to consider in the retirement benefit division process, including:

a)      Should the divorcing parties simply offset the value of the retirement benefits against other marital assets, or should they share the benefits?

b)      How do the parties handle the fact that one of the parties came to the marriage with an accrued value of retirement benefit?

c)      How do the parties handle an unspecific, ambiguous retirement plan provision in the Property Settlement Agreement?

d)     How do the parties handle death benefits that may evolve after the divorce?

e)      Can increases in retirement benefits that occur after the divorce be shared?

Here’s a quick overview of why this topic is of such importance to those who are considering, or in the process of, a divorce.

The first or second largest asset in a marital estate is the benefits/accounts that one or both married partners have accrued during their marriage. Appropriately dividing these benefits/accounts in a divorce demands that each of the parties, and their advisors, be fully informed as to how and when that division should be implemented.

DIVIDING RETIREMENT PLAN ASSETS IN A DIVORCE –  a clear and concise guide about how to properly apportion retirement plan assets in a divorce – provides detailed information for:

  1. The divorcing parties, making certain that each receives his/her rightful share of retirement plan benefits/accounts.
  2. Their counsel, supplementing their discussion with their clients in connection with all of the retirement plan benefits/accounts sharing options needing deliberation.
  3. Their accountants, as they delineate the assets in the marital estate to be shared.
  4. Their financial advisors, in connection with the investment considerations that will be applicable to the division of retirement plan assets, especially with reference to the IRA Rollover that may evolve from that division.
  5. Pension professionals, who may use the guide as a tool to give to prospective clients and client referral sources in connection with possible plan benefit/account valuation and QDRO preparation work.

(NOTE:  A 2013 United States Supreme Court decision, and the follow-up rulings by the governmental agencies involved in regulating retirement plans, brings same gender marriages and spouses into the world of retirement plan benefit/account sharing in a divorce. The State where the marriage was performed determines the legitimacy of the marriage, not the State of domicile.)

There are a number of reasons why the division of retirement plan assets needs to be carefully considered.  For example, many marriages begin with one or both parties having been employed for some time, where that employment provided for participation in a retirement plan. Therefore, the portion of the retirement plan benefit or account that accrued during the marriage did not begin at zero. There are several ways to determine how to exclude, or partially reflect, the portion of the benefit or account to be divided which is attributable to the pre-marital years.

Moreover, a serious deliberation is needed with regard to the various ways to divide the retirement plan assets between the divorcing parties. If we know the value of the retirement plan assets, do we just offset it against one or more of other marital assets?  Or, do we distribute the shares now, later, or at some other point in time?

Finally, some very special issues typically arise in reviewing the marital assets attributable to retirement plan assets. These include, but are not limited to, retirement plan funds that were previously distributed to an IRA for one or both parties; retirement plan funds that were borrowed during the marriage; and special bonus retirement benefits provided.


Howard M. Phillips is a Fellow of The Society of Actuaries; a Fellow of The Conference of Consulting Actuaries; a Member and past Director of The American Academy of Actuaries; a past president and Director of The American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries; and is enrolled to practice by a Joint Board of the Departments of Labor and Treasury. He is the past president of Consulting Actuaries Incorporated, and is currently an independent consulting actuary. He has authored several published texts and articles, and is the author of DIVIDING RETIREMENT PLAN ASSETS IN A DIVORCE: A Concise, Comprehensive Pension Guide for People Getting Divorced.