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Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Impact of Divorce on Spouse Benefits

(Posted March 25, 2004)

Question 417: I am a railroad worker with more than 30 years of service. My wife is filing for divorce. She claims that she has the right to 20% or more of my Railroad Retirement pension. We will be married 7 years in July. I have been told that we must be married 10 years for her to claim part of my pension. Who's right? Also, can you tell me how much she would receive as a spouse if we do not divorce?

Answer: Your question involves legal issues that are best addressed by attorneys. I am not a lawyer and I cannot give legal advice.

I can give you some general information about how divorce can affect Railroad Retirement Benefits, however.

First, those benefits consist of two Tiers (or components). Tier 1 is like a Social Security benefit and is based on your lifetime earning in the railroad industry plus any under Social Security. The law does not permit the division of Tier 1 in a divorce settlement. Instead, a Social Security level benefit is provided for a divorced spouse at 62 if the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the spouse is not married.

Tier 2 is like a private industry pension and is based only on railroad earnings. Tier 2 can be divided by the parties in a divorce property settlement, so that a portion will be paid to the divorced spouse. This is done under State divorce statutes. If properly included in the terms of the final divorce decree, the Railroad Retirement Board will recognize it.

If you and your wife do not divorce, she will be eligible for a Spouse Annuity under Railroad Retirement. It could begin as early as 60 because you have more than 30 years of rail service. Her Tier 1 would be 50% of your Tier 1 but would be reduced by any Social Security she is entitled to receive. Her Tier 2 benefit would be 45% of your Tier 2 benefit.

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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