While a divorce can be a traumatic and very emotional event, understanding your rights and how to protect them from the start will provide to be valuable when a significant amount of assets and debts are involved in the case.  With respect to assets and debts, retirement and or pensions and major financial accounts are all grouped together with the division of community assets and debts. Retirement and pension accounts can sometimes be very large, and also represent a major portion of overall assets and debts held jointly, so it is very important to understand your rights pertaining to them as well as how to protect those rights when initiating a divorce case in Murrieta. This would also apply to those in Murrieta who have already initiated a family law case at the County Superior Court but have not yet placed a freeze on financial accounts with a large value.

Murrieta Divorce Case, What is a Retirement Account?

In this article we will simply refer to accounts as “Retirement Accounts”, but based on the process with the California courts, this can include a broad range of accounts that were acquired during the marriage, known as community property assets. As part of the courts required preliminary disclosures phases, all assets and debts are to be listed, which would include retirement accounts. This is evident when looking at the required disclosure form for property, the California Judicial Counsel Form “FL-160”. Section 12 and 13 allow for listing these accounts there. This would include employer sponsored retirement accounts and pensions. Within these there may be specific types of accounts like 401(k), 457(b) and straight pension accounts. Further on the disclosure form you can list profit sharing accounts, IRAs, Deferred Compensation plans and even annuities. The court processes treats and handles these types of accounts in a similar manner, but for the sake of this reference guide we will refer to them simple as retirement accounts.

Why Would I Need to Freeze a Retirement Account in my Murrieta Divorce?

While freezing a retirement account is not always required to move forward to split or divide the account, it is an available option through the court and is very simple to execute. One popular benefit to freezing these accounts in your Murrieta divorce is to protect the community interest in the account. Once a divorce starts things can get tense and the parties may have thoughts about their entitlements to assets that do not line up with the courts property division guidelines. Someone may think that because the account is in their name, and through their employer, that it is their sole assets. In California, which applies to Murrieta divorces, those assets are often community property regardless of party who has the account. Community property in California is subject to an equal division. Before an account is frozen that person may have the ability to liquidate or cash out the account and once that is done the court can still make an order for division, but it is more difficult to get half of an account when it has been emptied or closed. Simply put, freezing the account will place a hold and the account will be restricted from distribution until further order of the court. Another reason to freeze an account is that in California, as a pre-requirement to a QDRO (the order that actually splits the account after a family law judgment), is required. Certain plans in California have been identified to require the freeze and when the dust settles on the division of assets this will have to be done anyways.

The Forms Needed to Freeze a Retirement Account in My Murrieta Divorce Case

In California it is simple to freeze a retirement account within your divorce or family law case. Requirement one is that you have an open family law case. You cannot file documents to freeze the case unless you have a case open. If you are in Murrieta, likely you have an open Family Law case in the Hemet Family Law Court of Riverside County.  There are only 3 required forms to complete and file with the court to do so. FL-375 Summons Joinder is a cover sheet to your documents and is required for when the freezing documents are filed and then must be served on the plan administrator (account holder). Next FL-370 – Pleading on Joinder – Employee Benefit Plan is information about your divorce case and the account in question. Last is the FL-372 – Request for Joinder of Employee Benefit Plan and Order. This form is your formal request and what the clerk of the court will stamp and sign making it an order for freeze. These documents are prepared, filed with the court and then you have an order for freezing the account.

Murrieta Divorce – I Have an Order Freezing A Retirement Account, Now What?

Once you have filed the appropriate documents to freeze your retirement account inside your Murrieta divorce, you are not done. The court does not contact the plan administrator or do anything further to finish the freezing process. Simply, you have an order from the court but the plan has no idea, and if they don’t have a copy of the order then how are they suppose to comply with it. The next step is for a serve (notification and delivery of the filed documents) on the plan. For a quick reference to methods of serve, look at page 2 of the Summons-Joinder referenced above. Essentially, the documents need to be given to the plan administrator and a proof of service needs to be filed back at the court. This is how the court knows the process is complete and how you know the plan has the order and will prevent any distribution on the account.

Murrieta Attorney to Advise of Rights and Responsibilities

If you live in Murrieta and either have an open family law case, or will be filing one soon, understanding the process and timeline as well as how the court could potential divide such accounts is information most family law attorneys in Murrieta can provide. An initial consultation is usually always free and you can obtain some foundational information not only about freezing accounts, but also other aspects of your case such as custody and visitation, as well as child and spousal support. If you have a large number of retirement accounts and you think the division of those may be contested by the other party a QDRO or Pension Division Attorney may provide more specific information.

No Time To Wait – Need to Freeze a Retirement in My Murrieta Divorce Now

If you do not have time to wait and have an open family law case and want to freeze a retirement account right away, a document preparation service can typically process the joinder documents, file and serve them for you within a few days time. For residents of Murrieta, one such company is Just Document Preparation, with an office in Murrieta on Ivy and Jefferson, near old town. You can learn more about their Joinder and QDRO service here.