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

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Is It Fair for Ex-Spouse to Receive Part of Rail Worker's Tier 2 Benefit?

(Posted March 15, 2013)

Question 989: Regarding the Tier 2 benefit -- the spouse of a rail worker gets a benefit in an amount that is 45% of the amount the railroad worker gets. Upon divorce, though, the now ex-spouse loses his or her benefit, but as part of a divorce order or settlement can get the RRB to pay him or her part of the railroad worker's Tier 2 benefit, thereby reducing the amount of the monthly payment to the rail worker. Seems to me that the rail worker is the loser in terms of money, not the ex-spouse. Is this correct?

Answer: Yes, but remember that as part of a divorce, most courts will divide the married couple's "marital" property into two equal shares. If the rail worker was married for most or all of his or her career, it is likely that the entire amount of the Tier 2 benefit is considered to be such property (rather than being the rail worker's "separate" property), so it is common for the ex-spouse to be awarded a share of it (e.g., 50%).

Also, in some states, "property" (including pensions) earned or acquired during a marriage is considered "community property," and is by definition considered to be owned jointly by the spouses, and hence would be divided equally in a divorce.

Basically, the 45% spouse benefit provided under the federal laws that define the Railroad Retirement program is limited by those laws to the spouse, who is no longer a spouse within the meaning of those laws once a divorce is finalized.

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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