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Because of the effects of community property laws in the event of a divorce, the law recognizes an exception to the rule that SDCERA retirement benefits are usually payable only to members and their survivors and beneficiaries.

When a divorce occurs, California law recognizes the spouse or registered domestic partner to have community property (sharing of household) rights. Retirement benefits earned during the marriage are considered community property assets and must be considered in your property settlement agreement.

What to do
When a marital dissolution action has been filed, the following steps should be taken:

  • Notify SDCERA of the pending action and submit joinder. Joinder is a legal process under the California Family Code that names SDCERA as a party to the action in the dissolution proceeding. Remember, once joined, no SDCERA benefits can be paid until the community property issue is resolved.
  • Submit a draft of a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) to SDCERA for approval prior to signing and filing with the court. A DRO is a legal document, signed by all parties and a judge that stipulates how retirement benefits should be divided. Upon your or your attorney's request, SDCERA provides model DRO language to guide practitioners drafting orders. Other language may be used as long as it is consistent with the applicable terms of retirement law. SDCERA requires a certified DRO prior to your retirement.
  • If your SDCERA benefit must be divided, either by agreement of the parties or as determined by the court, select a method of dividing community property.