A divorce can have ripple effects that last after it ends, especially in the realm of retirement. Married couples engage in long-term financial planning together, so a split can often push those plans off track, unless people take care to keep them intact during the divorce. One particular way that divorce can impact retirement is through the division of pensions. Now the Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case about how pension division interacts with Social Security, which has its own special rules for divorcing couples.
Social Security in Divorce
Social Security is different from the majority of pensions and retirement plans. Most of these plans qualify as marital property that the court will deal with during the property division. Conversely, Illinois courts do not divide Social Security. This difference stems from the fact that Social Security is a special plan regulated by the government. This means that it already has contingencies in place to deal with divorce, so courts do not need to divide it.
The Social Security Administration determines a person's benefits in part by his or her work record, so the Social Security system itself provides a way for spouses to benefit from their ex's record. A spouse who stopped working can use his or her ex's record if he or she is unmarried, over the age of 62, has a spouse entitled to collect Social Security benefits, and has a work record that would entitle him or her to fewer benefits than he or she would have under his or her spouse's record. As a part of this protection of Social Security during property division, Illinois courts have refused to shelter an equal amount of the other spouse's pension to even up the divorcing couple.
The Illinois Supreme Court recently took the case In Re Marriage of Mueller, which deals with a special circumstance of pension division. The husband in the case was a police officer, so he contributed to the police pension fund instead of paying into Social Security. He argued that his pension should be sheltered from division the way his wife's Social Security payments were, in light of the fact that his pension was intended to substitute for Social Security. This argument was rejected at both the trial and appellate level, since it ran counter to the current precedent that does not allow pension offsets. However, the fact that the Supreme Court was willing to hear the case may signal that it would consider making an exception for these types of pensions.
Divorce law is a complex and rapidly changing legal environment. If you are considering filing for a divorce you do not have to go through that environment alone. Contact an experienced DuPage County divorce attorney
today to learn more about your rights and options in a divorce case.