15850 W. Bluemound Rd. Suite 304 • Brookfield, WI 53005

15850 W. Bluemound Rd. Suite 304 • Brookfield, WI 53005 • 262-788-5335

What Happens with Retirement During a Wisconsin Divorce?

Divorce can create a lot of uncertainty, especially regarding your finances. During the process, you and your ex will divide your marital assets. As you do so, you should be assessing: 1) the value of your shared property and 2) how its division will impact your ability to support yourself now and in the future. This calculation should also include retirement. If you or your ex worked and have a retirement account, you will need to know: What happens with retirement during a Wisconsin divorce?

Wisconsin Divorce and Your Retirement

Many married couples prepare for the future, expecting to share their expenses and joint retirement resources. When a couple who has planned for shared retirement is divorcing, dividing their respective retirement accounts and assets will be a critical part of the case.

Wisconsin Divorce and Community Property

  • Wisconsin is a community property state, meaning that outside of certain limited exceptions, what you and your ex acquired during the marriage belongs equally to each of you.
  • If you and your ex worked and contributed to retirement during your marriage, you will both likely have a community interest in each other’s accounts and resources.
  • The same is true even if only one of you worked or if one partner has substantially more retirement funds.
  • As a community asset, retirement can be divided.

Retirement Plans During Divorce

The first step in determining how retirement will be divided during a Wisconsin divorce, is identifying what types of accounts and plans are at issue. There are various types of retirement plans, and sometimes a person will have more than one. An employee may have a defined benefit plan (pension) through their job, and  also contribute to a 401(k). Retirement portfolios may also include regular or Roth IRAs. There can also be circumstances when an individual has military retirement as well as a civilian plan. Social Security benefits may also be part of retirement when a couple has been married for a certain number of years.

Valuing Retirement

After identifying the retirement assets in your divorce, you will need to ensure that they are properly appraised. Although a retirement account may have a certain amount of funds, the dollar amount won’t necessarily reflect its future value. Additionally, depending on your circumstances, some or all of these funds may be considered marital property. Retirement accounts and resources can be complex, and it’s crucial that you work with someone who can help you accurately value these assets. 

Dividing Retirement

Once you have identified and adequately valued the retirement accounts and resources at issue (including any taxable portions), you will assess how you want to divide them in your divorce. Sometimes, parties will agree to keep their respective retirement accounts and to divide their other community property equally. In other situations, one party may retain 100% of their retirement in exchange for the other being awarded more of the couple’s community assets. There can also be circumstances when a percentage of one spouse’s retirement will be awarded to the other spouse.

QDROs, Military Retirement, and Social Security

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is a court order that will include the necessary information to allow retirement account and plan administrators to distribute one person’s retirement to the other spouse according to terms of a divorce decree. When a spouse is awarded a portion (usually a percentage) of another spouse’s pension benefit plan, they will need a QDRO to become an alternate payee for the plan. QDROs are also used to allow one spouse’s 401(k) funds to be transferred to the other’s 401(k) account.

Military Retirement

Someone awarded a portion of their former spouse’s military retirement would submit specific information and documentation to the military for distribution. However, the military has specific limitations regarding direct payment of military retirement. Those married for at least ten years would receive their percentage of their ex’s retirement directly from DFAS (Defense Finance Accounting Services). Those married less than ten years will have to make other payment arrangements.

Social Security

The process is also different when one spouse is seeking payment on the other’s social security record. A divorced party who was married at least ten years to their ex is eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on their ex’s record if they are unmarried when they become eligible for Social Security. Any benefits paid to a divorced spouse will not reduce the payments made to the ex.


Dividing and valuing retirement during divorce can be complicated, and it’s important that you have the right guidance and advice. By working with an experienced Wisconsin divorce attorney, you can learn more about how to value and assess retirement during your divorce.  

Contact an Experienced Wisconsin Divorce Attorney

Wisconsin Attorney and Mediator Karyn Youso of First Look Family Law is an attorney and Mediator with the experience you need to help you with your Wisconsin divorce case. She understands the importance of retirement accounts in divorce. If you have a divorce case in Metro Milwaukee, Waukesha, or Brookfield, please contact us today and let us take a “first look” at your situation.