Divorce or Domestic Partnership Dissolution
Accrued retirement benefits are considered community property in California. Therefore, if you divorce or dissolve a registered domestic partnership, your benefit may be divided between you and your former spouse/partner, depending on the specific community property settlement agreed upon in your dissolution.
By law, CCCERA must be joined in (become a part of) your legal action to process your account appropriately. This joinder allows CCCERA to comply with the details of your settlement agreement as they apply to your retirement account. This court ordered agreement is called a Domestic Relations Order (DRO).
By law, active members’ accounts are divided into two separate and distinct accounts at time of dissolution if so ordered by the court. The court is prohibited from imposing a DRO that pays benefits with a total value that exceeds the amount the active member would have received if the order had not been issued. After this account split, the active member and non-member (former spouse/domestic partner) each have the right to manage his or her individual account going forward. They also have certain rules of law to follow.
After an account split, each person (active member and non-member) has sole control over his or her own account. Unless specifically provided by the DRO, or other CERL mandated notifications, individual account activity is confidential. A required notification, for example, would be if the non-member takes a lump sum payment, which creates an opportunity for the active member to purchase forfeited service credit, or if the active member retires before the non-member. It is important to discuss split account details with a CCCERA counselor in order to understand the process and the results. CCCERA also strongly suggests consulting with an attorney.
If a member is married or in a domestic partnership CERL requires the beneficiary to be the member’s spouse/domestic partner, unless a Spousal Waiver (Form 303) is signed and on file with CCCERA. After your account is split, each person may name a new beneficiary, other than your spouse/domestic partner. If your dissolution results in your choice of a new beneficiary, be sure to change this information with CCCERA. For clarification, divorced/former registered domestic partner non-members are also called alternate payees.
This information only applies to active members. If you become divorced, or your partnership is dissolved after retirement, the options are different.
Member eligibility for retirement and disability benefits is not affected by account splits. Please refer to the beneficiaries section of the benefit handbook for examples of how account splitting during divorce or domestic partnership dissolution may affect active members and former spouse/domestic partners.