A Complete Guide to Splitting a 401(k) in a Divorce

In Indiana, there are established laws about the division of marital property in a divorce. These laws encompass the division of individual retirement accounts, such as a 401(k). But in the case of a high-net-worth divorce or in other extenuating circumstances, one of our qualified divorce lawyers at Webster & Garino LLC can help you navigate a more personalized division.

We’ve served residents of Westfield, Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Fishers, IN, with exemplary family law solutions since 2017. Contact our team of knowledgeable divorce litigators for help with your entire divorce process today.

Marital Property: How a 401(k) Fits into Your Marital Assets

A 401(k) is a retirement savings plan sponsored by an employer. It is considered a marital asset if you or your spouse made contributions to the retirement account during your marriage. To undergo the divorce process smoothly, it’s important that you first understand the complete scope of your assets, including your own retirement account, and how they will be divided.

What are Marital Assets?

Marital assets, or marital property, are financial and physical property you and your spouse own at the time of your divorce. This encompasses all property owned by both parties in your divorce, including individual or joint/separate property, inherited property, or property acquired before or during the marriage.

The term marital assets can include:

  • 401(k)s
  • Other retirement funds
  • Financial accounts
  • Businesses
  • Real Estate
  • Vehicles
  • Personal property

Head Start: How to Prepare for a 401(k) Division

Getting a divorce can be a long, drawn-out process even in the most amicable situations. Your own divorce proceedings can take even more time and energy if you are going through a high-net-worth divorce and have additional marital property to negotiate the division of, such as a 401(k).

That’s why preparing your finances, including your 401(k), is crucial to reaching a smooth and fair outcome when dividing retirement accounts. At Webster & Garino LLC, our trained divorce attorneys can help you navigate the entire divorce process from preparation to completion.

We’ve listed the following steps to prepare your 401(k) for division.

Gather all Financial Documents

Your first step is to collect all relevant financial documents related to your 401(k). This includes statements, contribution records, and plan documents. These documents will provide a clear picture of the value and history of your 401(k).

Assess the Value

Next, you’ll want to determine the value of your 401(k) at the time your divorce was filed. Understanding where your 401k contributions fall will help you establish the value you’ll be working on within division negotiations.

Seek Legal Guidance

Even the process of assessing your 401(k)’s marital value can be tedious, confusing, and take way too much of your energy. When you work with our qualified litigators at Webster & Garino LLC, we’ll do the heavy lifting so that you can focus on your needs and work through the emotions that come with divorce.

We’ll also work with a professional financial advisor if necessary to help with the valuation and taxation aspects of your 401(k) and ensure that you receive the fairest and most equitable outcome possible. When dividing a 401(k) in a divorce, our family law attorneys will be able to inform you of all the complex laws that apply in your jurisdiction, and draft necessary legal documents to help negotiate on your behalf.

By following these steps and seeking professional guidance, you can be better prepared to navigate the division of your 401(k) in a divorce and ensure that your financial interests are protected. Remember to consult with attorneys in the field and approach the process with careful consideration.

Dividing Marital Assets in Indiana

In Indiana, the presumption is a 50/50 division of all marital property and liabilities. This means the court will generally divide your assets equally to ensure fair and just treatment for both parties. When regarding the division of marital assets, including a 401(k), the court will consider a variety of factors to determine the proper property division amount.

Factors considered by courts in Indiana include:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Financial contributions of each spouse
  • The needs of both parties

The Process Specific to a 401(k) Division in Indiana

In the specific context of dividing a 401(k), Indiana law dictates that your 401(k) will fall under the principle of equitable distribution.

Equitable distribution is slightly different from the standard 50/50 split. It means that your 401(k) will be divided fairly, but not necessarily equally between you and your spouse.

In Indiana, the court follows two key steps to divide 401(k)s and finalize a divorce decree. These steps include determining the value of retirement assets in your 401(k) and deciding on the division method.

Determining the Value of Your 401(k)

The court will determine the value of your 401(k) by considering factors like the account balance at the time of the divorce. This process can be complicated by factors like pre-marital contributions or outstanding loans against the account.

We recommend preparing for this process by doing your own valuation or getting expert valuation services to ensure there are no surprises.

Deciding the Division Method

Once the value of your 401(k) has been established, the court will decide on the division method or the parties will argue on how the marital estate is divided, including the 401(k).

One common approach is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which is a court order that instructs the retirement plan administrator to divide the 401(k) between both spouses. The QDRO specifies the percentage or specific dollar amount to be allocated to each party.

Another option is a cash-out or buyout, where one spouse keeps the entire 401(k) but offsets the balance with other assets or a cash payment of equivalent value.

We have extensive experience in negotiating and advocating for our clients’ best interests throughout the entire 401(k) division process. Expert legal advice is especially pertinent in cases where one party decides to request a different split than the court’s standard 50/50 decision.

At Webster & Garino LLC, we not only understand how to value property but are experienced in advocating the statutory factors the court considers when determining an appropriate division of marital property.

How to Advocate for Your Desired Outcome

While Indiana has set standards for the division of marital property, there are situations where you may want to advocate for a different outcome regarding the division of a 401(k). Maybe you feel there is an imbalance in the overall asset distribution or one spouse in your divorce has significantly greater financial needs.

Whatever the extenuating circumstances, our superior divorce attorneys are eager to help you build a strong case that advocates for a more satisfactory outcome. We will gather relevant financial documents, assess the contributions and financial needs of you and your spouse, and present a compelling argument to the court.

In the appropriate cases, we will also undergo in-depth negotiations outside of court on your behalf to explore all viable division options and reach your preferred solution regarding your 401(k).

What Extenuating Factors Does the Court Consider?

If the process of reaching a unique division decision for your marital estate must take place in court, there are certain factors outlined by state law that the court will consider. The factors necessary to rebut the 50/50 presumption outlined in IC 31-15-7-5 include:

  • The contribution of each spouse to the acquisition of the property
  • The extent the property was acquired before the marriage OR through inheritance or gift
  • The economic circumstances of each spouse
  • The conduct of the parties during the marriage with respect to the disposition or dissipation of assets
  • The earnings or earning abilities of the parties.

How Will Dividing a 401(k) Affect Your Taxes?

Dividing a 401(k) in a divorce can have tax implications. It’s important to be aware of them so you can plan ahead and achieve the best outcome for your financial future.

When a QDRO is used to divide your 401(k), both parties in your divorce generally don’t have to pay taxes on the transfer. You will both also be exempt from paying the early withdrawal penalty when withdrawing retirement funds before age 59 and a half. However, if the receiving spouse decides to withdraw funds from the 401(k) after the division, the withdrawal may be subject to ordinary income taxes.

If the court decides on a cash-out or buyout arrangement for you and your spouse, there could be additional tax consequences. If you aren’t the account owner and you receive the cash or other assets and decide to sell those assets down the road, you may be liable for capital gains tax. You may also be responsible for any other applicable taxes associated with the transaction of receiving the cash and other assets.

Whether or not your 401(k) is divided through a buyout arrangement or you receive cash from your spouse’s retirement account, neither you nor your spouse is exempt from the early withdrawal penalty if you decide to withdraw your funds early.

Why Hire A Divorce Attorney?

As we’ve demonstrated, there’s a lot more involved in splitting a 401(k) in a divorce than meets the eye. Even if you want to forgo a personalized plan and are seeking the 50/50 division outlined by the court, there is an almost endless list of possible challenges and negative financial outcomes that could have a lasting effect on your divorce and financial security going forward.

When you hire a family law attorney at Webster & Garino LLC, you’ll have a caring, informed guide on your side. We help you understand everything you need to know about divorce in Indiana. We understand how to value property and present or rebut the statutory factors the court considers when dividing 401(k)s. We’ll also work with outside resources like a certified financial planner or your existing bank or investment firm to help you address income tax issues or properly manage your financial legacy. We are committed and prepared to advocate for the outcome that’s best for your unique needs and wants.

Get Solutions for all of Your Divorce Issues

Don’t wait until you’re already struggling to stay afloat in a costly and complex divorce process. At Webster & Garino LLC, we’re proud to offer initial consultations to help you get ahead of all of your divorce issues, including the division of your 401(k). We offer virtual divorce litigation to the extent allowed by the courts, specialized high-net-worth divorce offerings, and other family law solutions so that you can get expert legal advice from the comfort of your home in Westfield, Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, or Fishers, Indiana. Contact our divorce attorneys for trustworthy legal solutions today.