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Pensions and Emotions in Connecticut Divorces

Connecticut Divorce Attorney Meghan FreedLots of emotions about pensions come into play in Connecticut divorces.

Frankly, there is a lot of emotion involved in dividing up all types of assets in a divorce, but retirement plans are particularly emotional for some people.  For example, if you were the spouse who earned the pension through your employer, your value and self-worth may be involved in your feelings about your pension.  If you are the spouse with fewer retirement savings, feelings about your value and self-worth may well also be involved.  For example, you may want to make sure your other valuable contributions to the marriage are considered.

When a couple is ending a marriage, their future financial security is often a worry.  For some, it will feel downright scary.  (By the way – this concern is not limited to those of more modest means.  Many very wealthy people experience the same fear.  It’s perfectly normal.) With so many variables regarding the future, retirement savings represent a safety net.

Why Are Pensions In Particular So Emotional?

In practical terms, your pension is essentially a savings account that was accumulated during your marriage.  It is subject to division during a divorce, just like any other marital asset.  But that’s not the whole story.  Divorce is not just a legal and financial — we are human beings filled with human emotions.

Defined benefit pensions tend to be particularly emotional for both spouses in Connecticut divorces.

In part, this may be because people who receive such pensions provide have challenging careers, such as firefighters, police, teachers, and military personnel. In many cases, a pension is a symbol of hard, sometimes dangerous, and stressful work both for the person working and their spouse.  Plus, because pensions promise a guaranteed income for life, they can represent more of a safety net than a 401(k) that fluctuates with the stock market.  The idea of sharing that safety net with an ex-spouse can feel scary and unfair.  So too can the idea of not sharing in the safety net provided through your ex-spouse’s employer.

Why Are Pensions Subject to Division?

Here are the basics.  Pensions are a type of retirement account, and retirement accounts are a type of property, and Connecticut’s all property equitable distribution scheme “does not limit, either by timing or method of acquisition or by source of funds, the property subject to a trial court’s broad allocative power.”  Krafick v. Krafick.  (For m0re information on the nuts and bolts, check out our article “How Does Property Division Work in a Connecticut Divorce.”)

In Connecticut, “the paramount purpose of a property division pursuant to a dissolution proceeding [which] is to unscramble existing marital property in order to give each spouse his or her equitable share at the time of dissolution.”  Greenan v. Greenan.

Okay, then, what does Connecticut consider equitable?

The court weighs multiple factors.

  • How long your marriage lasted
  • The reasons why the marriage came to an end
  • The respective ages and health condition of each spouse
  • The current income, occupation, and employability of each spouse
  • The personal assets and liabilities of each spouse
  • The ability of each spouse to be self-sustaining
  • The contribution that each spouse made to the acquisition, maintenance, or appreciation of marital assets

Think about those for a minute — there’s a lot in there.  Whether and how a pension will be divided is unique to every couple.  You and your spouse will either come to an agreement on whether and how to divide the pension and other assets with the help of your attorneys, or the court will decide.  Your pension, like any other asset, is part of a larger conversation of asset and debt distribution in your divorce.  For example, one asset may be may traded-off for another — or for alimony.  With help from a knowledgeable lawyer, you will understand what assets are available to you now and whether you should wait to receive other assets or choose other options.

Next Steps

You may be thinking about other assets that are emotionally loaded and want to learn more about how those work in the context of a Connecticut divorce.  For example, for many people, the home is the source of a lot of complicated feelings.  It’s an asset, but it also isn’t just an asset.  (For more on how the family home touches all of the aspects of the divorce experience — emotional, financial, legal, and logistics — please head here.

Or, you may be ready to talk to us.

Now that you have learned more about how emotions come into play and how pension division works in Connecticut divorces, you know that none of this is simple.  The good news is that this creates a lot of opportunity for creative negotiations, strategy, and solutions. It’s important to have an experienced divorce legal team be your guide.

Our first step at Freed Marcroft, the Goals & Planning Conference, is designed to get to the heart of your problem and unveil your true goals.  Then, we take those goals along with the facts of your case and analyze them so that we can present you with recommendations and options on how to move forward.

Schedule your Goals & Planning Conference today, or contact us either here or by phone at 860-560-8160.

Written by Meghan Freed