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Protect access to retirement benefits in a 'gray' divorce

If you are a woman going through a later-in-life "gray divorce," you need to make some strategic decisions when it comes to your property settlement. This is vital to understand, as the divorce rates for those 50 and older continue to rise.

For instance, women often focus on retaining the family home — to their detriment. It is often far better to cede the home to the husband or agree to sell it outright than to barter away their rights to a significant chunk of the retirement accounts and pensions.

If this is your second marriage, you need to understand that you are only entitled to the portion of the pension or retirement benefits that were paid into during the marriage. In other words, your share of the retirement assets may already be greatly reduced. It's foolhardy not to fight for all that you can.

There are also tax implications that will need to be considered. You should run any proposed settlements by your tax professional before giving your attorney the go-ahead to approve the settlement plan.

You also must understand that to divide retirement benefits, your attorney or the opposing counsel must submit a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to the court for approval. A final divorce judgment/property settlement is insufficient for the pension plan administrator to allocate funds from the plan to the former spouse.

With so much at stake, it's very important that you communicate your needs clearly to your Tennessee family law attorney. Together, the two of you can assess and evaluate your post-divorce financial needs and compare them to the assets that are at play in the divorce. Only then can you devise a workable strategy that can leave you in the best position possible as you embark on this new phase of your life.

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