California is a community property state. Therefore, retirement plan benefits earned during your marriage may be considered community property and subject to division upon your dissolution of marriage (i.e. divorce).
Pursuant to the laws of California, if you are a member of SBCERA while you are married, your former spouse may be entitled to an interest in the community property portion of your retirement benefit.
Upon a divorce or divorce filing, as an active or retired member, please notify SBCERA as soon as possible. If not, you could face long delays in the payment of your current and/or future retirement benefits.
Notifying SBCERA Regarding a Divorce
- Submit a Copy of your Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage or Property Settlement Agreement: As soon as you receive a completed Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage/Property Settlement Agreement from your divorce proceedings, please submit a copy to SBCERA. The judgment will undergo a detailed review by SBCERA legal counsel to assess whether you are entitled to your retirement, including the community property portion, as your separate property or whether your spouse is entitled to an interest in the community property portion of your retirement benefit as determined by the court. All pages of this document, including any attachments, will be required and it must contain a court’s file stamp and the judge’s signature. If your spouse was not granted any rights to your benefit, no further steps may be necessary. However, you must still submit this documentation and SBCERA will notify you in writing regarding what, if any, additional steps are necessary.
PLEASE NOTE: It is important that the language in your judgment is clear. It is best if the judgment specifically mentions SBCERA and clearly states what you and your spouse are entitled to (e.g. 60% and 40%). A good way to tell if the information is clear is to read the judgment to yourself and/or a friend. If each of you can easily understand the language, it is probably clear enough for SBCERA and will be considered acceptable for our records
- File a Joinder—it is Mandatory: If the court awards an interest in the community property portion of your retirement benefit to your former spouse, you will be required to “join” SBCERA as a third party to your divorce proceedings. This can be done by filing a Joinder with the court in the same county as your divorce filing. SBCERA must be joined to your case to recognize any court orders before dividing and distributing your retirement benefits to you and/or your former spouse. If SBCERA has not been joined to your case when you retire or terminate your employment, distribution of your retirement benefits and/or contributions may be delayed until a Joinder has been filed and SBCERA has been served with the Joinder.
- Obtain a Domestic Relations Order (DRO): After filing a Joinder, you may also be required to file a DRO. This is a court order that provides SBCERA with detailed instructions regarding how the retirement benefits are to be divided. In order for SBCERA to honor the DRO, must be compliant with the 1937 Act and other applicable laws pertaining to pensions. SBCERA offers various sample DROs to assist in the development of an acceptable DRO. For more information, view our Frequently Asked Questions.
- Inform SBCERA of Any Other Orders: Each divorce case is different. Please provide SBCERA with any additional orders or documents pertaining to your divorce that may affect your retirement benefits.
- Change Your Beneficiary: Upon your divorce, be sure to update your beneficiary. If you will no longer be nominating a spouse, you will also need to complete a Justification for Non‐Signature of Spouse form. Both forms should be returned to SBCERA as soon as possible.
This information is not intended nor does it serve as legal advice as SBCERA and its staff cannot provide you with legal advice concerning your divorce or community property rights issues. For any additional questions, please contact SBCERA. Additionally, it is advised that you seek competent legal advice if you have any further questions or concerns regarding the division, if any, of your SBCERA retirement benefit(s). If you require a Family Law Specialist to assist you during this time, please contact the San Bernardino County Bar Association or The State Bar of California.