It’s a common misconception that police officers divorce more frequently than other occupations. A recent Radford University study revealed that the average divorce rate for law enforcement careers is 14.47 percent, well under the national average for all occupations of 16.96 percent. Despite the fact that police officers divorce no more frequently than other occupations, they do have unique factors that must be taken into consideration when filing for divorce. One of the most important is the equitable distribution of a police pension.
What is the New York police pension?
A police pension provides retirement benefits, which allow police officers to retire from their professions and pursue other career and interest opportunities. The plan targets retirement at age 55 with 20 years of service on the force. The New York City Police Pension (NYCPFF) is a defined benefit plan, meaning that a specific benefit is provided at retirement in amounts that are paid either on a fixed-dollar basis or as a percentage of compensation. The NYCPFF manages the pension’s invested assets and pays out benefits according to a formula set forth in New York State and New York City laws.
Can police pensions be divided in a divorce?
Yes, police pension benefits earned during a marriage are subject to equitable distribution. The case Majauskas v. Majauskas (61 N.Y.2d. 481, 474 N.Y.S.2d 699) concluded that a participant’s vested but unmatured rights to a pension, that were accrued during the marriage, are to be considered marital property. Therefore, a public pension fund will honor an Approved Domestic Relations Order (ADO). An ADO permits a public pension fund to make a direct payment to a former spouse when retirement benefits are divided in martial property settlement.
How are police pensions divided in divorce?
Majauskas v. Majauskas established the most common equitable distribution method for public pensions. The formula provides an ex-spouse with one-half of the pension benefits that were earned during the marriage.
The Majauskas Formula
50% × years of service credit accrued during marriage (numerator)÷ total service credit at time of retirement (denominator)
Is an ex-spouse always entitled to receive half of the police pension in a divorce?
No, an ex-spouse may be eligible for part of the martial portion of the police pension. Although the Majauskas Formula is the most common method, there are other ways that a police pension may be divided in divorce proceedings. One is by a flat dollar amount, which “locks in” a set amount for an ex-spouse that will not vary if the police officer’s salary significantly rises prior to his or her retirement. This method may also affect an ex-spouse’s right to a share of the police officers cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). Another method of pension division is by a modification of the standard Majauskas Formula, which means that the parties will negotiate factors of the equation.
An ex-spouse’s share can also be calculated as of a specific date. Through this method, the Retirement System calculates the hypothetical retirement benefit using the police officer’s final average salary and credit service as of a specific date. The date most commonly used for this is the commencement date of the divorce action. Using the hypothetical retirement benefit, an ex-spouse’s distribution can be calculated. Pension factors and age reductions applied to the pension benefit will also be applied to the ex-spouse’s share. Post-divorce salary and service increases do not count in the calculation of the ex-spouse’s distribution.
Does the police pension have to be shared at all during a divorce?
No, there is no law that stipulates that the equitable distribution of assets upon the parties’ divorce results in the division of retirement benefits. In settlement negotiations, the parties may make the decision to trade-off one asset for another. Although the police pension is a valuable asset that may be considered martial property, subject to be divided in divorce proceedings, the parties may come to an agreement to divide the marital property in a way that excludes the police officer’s pension.
Whether you are a police officer or a police officer’s spouse, going through divorce proceedings can be an emotional and difficult process to navigate. The New York divorce lawyers at Blodnick, Fazio & Associates have experience representing clients in divorce proceedings with complex financial issues. Our divorce lawyers handle all aspects of matrimonial law, including divorce, mediation, negotiation, alternative methods to litigation, maintenance (alimony), division of assets, and family court matters. Our firm will work with you to determine what course of action is best for you when going through your divorce and protect both your legal and financial interests during the process. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact our Long Island divorce law firm at (516) 280-7105.