California is a community property state, which means that you and your ex-spouse may have a “community property interest” in the assets earned by the other person during the marriage. Your KCERA benefit is considered a community property asset that must be disclosed to the court, which will provide direction on how the benefit should be divided.
Notice of Adverse Interest
KCERA usually becomes aware that an ex-spouse has a community property interest in a member’s benefit when a phone call or court order is received. This contact is referred to as a “notice of adverse interest.” Consequently, one of two things will happen:
- If the member is active or deferred, KCERA will place a “hold” on the member’s account, which prevents him from receiving his first benefit payment.
- If the member is retired, KCERA will reduce his monthly retirement benefit by one-half (50%) in the following month.
The “account hold” or “payment reduction” will continue until KCERA receives all of the required divorce documentation required to resolve the community property claim. Depending on the cooperation of both parties and their attorneys, this process could last several months.
KCERA requires certain documents from the member, the ex-spouse or their attorneys before the divorce process can be finalized. To be valid, all documents referenced below must include a California court’s file stamp or judge’s signature.
- Judgment and/or Property Settlement Agreement. This document states whether your ex-spouse is entitled to a portion of your retirement benefit.* It is best if the Judgment specifically mentions KCERA and how your retirement benefit should be divided between the two parties.
- Joinder. This series of documents “joins” KCERA as a third party to your divorce proceedings. Being joined means that KCERA must comply with whatever action the judge orders as long as it is consistent with retirement law.
- Domestic Relations Order (DRO). This court order provides specific instructions to KCERA on how to divide and pay your retirement benefits under various circumstances. As a service to members and attorneys, KCERA offers a pre-approved sample DRO as a template to follow.
Dissolution of Registered Domestic Partnership
The discussion of “marriage” and “divorce” above also applies to the commencement or termination of domestic partnerships registered with the California Secretary of State.
(* If the Judgment does not award a community property interest to an ex-spouse, a Joinder and DRO are not required. If a member will be awarded the entire KCERA benefit as his or her “sole and separate property,” it is best if the Judgment explicitly states this.)