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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.

Are you planning to retire?

If you are in the process of a divorce but still want to retire, you may submit your retirement application at any time. The filing of or outcome of a divorce proceeding does not impact your retirement date.

Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce

I'm getting a divorce. What do I need to do?
Because California considers retirement benefits earned during marriage to be community property assets, they must be considered in your property settlement agreement and may be divided by the court. As part of the marital dissolution process, you must join SDCERA as a party to the dissolution proceeding and have SDCERA's Legal Department review your draft domestic relations order (DRO) prior to filing it with the court.

My divorce is not yet final. Can I retire now?
Yes. If you are in the process of a divorce but still want to retire, you may submit your retirement application at any time. The filing of or outcome of a divorce proceeding does not impact your retirement date.

What is a Domestic Relations Order (DRO)?
A DRO is a stipulation signed by all parties and a judge identifying how retirement benefits are to be divided. Sample DROs may be requested by calling the SDCERA Member Service Center at 619.515.6800.

Do I need to file any other document with the court prior to submitting the DRO to SDCERA?
Yes. SDCERA will not accept a DRO until you have filed a joinder with the court and it has been served on SDCERA. SDCERA will identify any changes to be made and return the DRO to the parties for them to finalize and sign. Once the parties have signed the DRO, SDCERA will sign the DRO and return it to the parties to file it with the court.

What if my SDCERA benefit is not discussed in my DRO?
A DRO that does not address SDCERA benefits will not be accepted by SDCERA.

How long will it take SDCERA to process my domestic relations order (DRO)?
Generally, DROs are processed within 30 days after SDCERA receives the court's signed order.

Will SDCERA notify my former spouse of any portion of a benefit they are eligible to receive?
SDCERA does not provide actuarial valuations of a Member's retirement benefits, legal advice, or tax advice concerning the division of a Member's benefits. An actuary may be retained by the parties to determine the present value of the benefit. After the DRO is completed, the parties will be notified of the portion of the benefit they will be receiving.

Can my former spouse contact SDCERA and discuss my benefit?
By law, a Member's retirement records are confidential. To release information about a Member's account, SDCERA must receive one of the following:

  • Written request from the Member authorizing the release of the specific information to be provided to the spouse or former spouse; OR
  • Subpoena duces tecum, which may be served on SDCERA by mail

What if I am legally separated but not divorced?
When a legal separation or marital dissolution action has been filed, the Member should notify SDCERA immediately in writing. The non-Member has an interest in the Member's retirement account if he/she was married to an SDCERA Member while the Member worked for the County of San Diego or participating employer. To protect the non-Member's interest in the plan, SDCERA should be notified in writing that the non-Member is asserting a claim for community property interest in the Member's benefit.

What happens if a spouse or former spouse asserts a claim for a community property interest in the Member's benefit?
If the Member has not yet been retired, SDCERA is unable to distribute any payments from the Member's account until the legal separation or dissolution is resolved. If a Member is retired, SDCERA is required to withhold the spouse's or former spouse's community property share from the monthly retirement benefit pending the completion of the separation or dissolution.

What if the court awarded the Member the retirement as his/her sole and separate property?
Provide SDCERA proof that the court awarded the retirement benefit to the Member as his/her sole and separate property as soon as possible so that your retirement application processing will not be unnecessarily delayed.

What is the SDCERA process for Dissolution or Legal Separation?

  1. Notify SDCERA in writing of pending dissolution or legal separation
  2. Prepare and file Joinder
  3. Serve SDCERA with Joinder
  4. Prepare DRO and submit draft to SDCERA for review/approval
  5. Execute approved DRO and return to SDCERA for signing
  6. File DRO with court
  7. Return conformed copy of court-approved DRO to SDCERA
  8. Update beneficiary designations upon dissolution or legal separation

What if I have multiple DROs from different divorces on file with SDCERA?
Each DRO will be processed based on the community property interest specified in the DRO and the retirement benefit that is available to each former spouse. Subsequent former spouses will not have a community property interest in the amount awarded to previous former spouses.