Divorce and Retirement Accounts in Florida

Many people put money into retirement savings accounts during the course of their employment. While retirement plans can only be in one person’s name, income deposited into a retirement account during a marriage is generally considered marital property and is subject to equitable distribution unless otherwise agreed. As discussed in a recent Florida ruling, a party who waives their right to their former spouse’s retirement benefits through a marital settlement agreement is not entitled to such benefits simply because of a mistake in the plan contract. If you or your spouse intends to divorce, you need to obtain the services of an experienced Florida divorce attorney to help you preserve your assets.

Procedural History

According to reports, the couple married in 1988. Throughout the marriage, the husband made contributions to an ERISA-governed 401k. Under the plan, he named his wife as the principal beneficiary and his children as secondary beneficiaries. They divorced in 2017 and signed a marital settlement agreement (MSA) that stated, among other things, that each person would get benefits from any retirement plan in their name and relinquished all interest or claims in the benefits of the other party.

The MSA is said to have been ratified through the final dissolution of marriage. The spouse died two years after the divorce, and his personal representative was chosen as his daughter from a previous marriage. He did, however, forget to update the primary beneficiary on his 401k plan before he died. Although both the wife and the daughter claimed the plan proceeds, the plan administrator only gave them to the wife. A motion to enforce the MSA was filed by the daughter. In response, the wife claimed that under the MSA, she had not waived her right to death benefits. A magistrate ruled in favor of the wife after a hearing. An exception was filed by the estate. The exceptions were upheld by the trial court, and the wife was forced to hand over the 401k funds. The wife filed an appeal.

Conflicts Between Retirement Accounts Documents Divorce Settlement Agreements and

On appeal, the court affirmed the trial court order. It concurred with the trial court that the MSA’s contents were plain and explicit and that each party specifically relinquished any earnings from the other’s retirement plan, including any alleged death benefits. The estate was also not precluded from implementing the MSA simply because the husband failed to fill out a document, according to the court.

The appellate court went on to say that the MSA’s simple wording was sufficient to override the form naming a beneficiary, noting that the absence of the phrase “death benefits” was not dispositive, and that magic words were not required to indicate waiver. As a result, it upheld the trial court’s decision.

Speak to a Dedicated Miami Divorce Attorney

Making the decision to end a marriage has emotional as well as financial repercussions, so anyone seeking a divorce should consult with an attorney to learn more about their alternatives. The dedicated Miami attorneys of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A., have ample experience handling complicated divorce matters, and if we represent you, we will advocate zealously on your behalf. We have an office in Aventura, and we frequently represent people in divorce cases in Miami. You can contact us through our form online or at 800-596-0579 to set up a conference.



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