Divorce & retirement accounts


SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It may be the last thing people going through a divorce consider. 

But often times one spouse is entitled to another’s retirement benefits, even long after the marriage ends. 

Collecting on those benefits can sometimes be more difficult than the divorce itself, as one KELOLAND woman has discovered. 

That’s the subject of tonight’s KELOLAND News Investigation. 

When it comes to divorce, everything gets divided up by the court, including retirement benefits. 
But there are a lot of factors that go into who gets what and how much. 

During a divorce, retirement funds like 401(k)s and pension plans will be divvied up, no matter whose name they are in, just like other assets. 

“The court considers a number of factors in dividing those types of retirement. One is age; length of the marriage; contribution to accumulation of the assets–all of those things and other factors as well,” Divorce Attorney Mary Burd said. 

Burd has spent decades navigating the ins and outs of various pension plans. 

“These types of orders are very technical. When I do one, I’m very careful and spend a lot of time focusing on what the plan’s regulations are; each one is different–and they change frequently,” Burd said. 

When Carolynne Pederson got divorced in 2013, she was awarded $21,000 from her ex-husband’s federal employee retirement plan. 

“It was written to be one lump sum, payable immediately; immediately is the way the lawyer had written it up,” Pederson said.  

But that’s not the way it happened. To date, Pederson says she hasn’t seen a dime. 

“A state court, if it is in contradiction to what a federal law says, then the federal law obviously controls. And plan rules control as well. So even if a state court were to say, you have to do this, if the plan’s rules are contrary the plan cannot and will not have to do that, Burd said. 

According to the Federal Office of Personnel Management, which disperses the retirement fund, Pederson had to wait until her ex-husband retired. 

“So he did retire,” Pederson said. 

But Pederson is still waiting for the federal government to give her what a court order says she is rightfully owed. 

While the years and months drag on, now Pederson has “No time to wait.” 

Wednesday at 10 in our KELOLAND News Investigation, we tell you why it’s so important to Pederson that she get that money and ask the feds what’s happening with her benefits, which even the Office of Personnel Management approved back in 2017

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