Your pension from the Employees’ Retirement System of Rhode Island (ERSRI) and TIAA is considered marital property subject to valuation and equitable distribution in a divorce.
A domestic relations order (DRO) is a judgment, decree or court order relating to the provision of child support, alimony payments or the division of marital property rights awarded to a spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent, referred to as the Alternate Payee, of the ERSRI member, referred to as the Participant, as part of a divorce settlement.
A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a domestic relations order that has been subsequently approved by the Plan Administrator. Under federal law the Plan Administrator has the final authority to qualify a DRO or to deny it if it fails to meet the federal requirements or provides for benefits not otherwise available under the Plan.
If you are the Participant in the Plan, you will be provided with the information upon request by contacting ERSRI at (401) 462-7600. Alternate Payees and lawyers must provide a release signed by the member or a Subpoena before information will be provided.
ERSRI pension calculations may require information from the member’s current and prior employer. Consequently, it is encouraged that members and their attorneys contact ERSRI well in advance of scheduled court hearings and conferences. Typically requests for pension information from members and attorneys, unless requested via Subpoena, will be honored and provided within 30 to 60 days of the date of request. If pension information is needed sooner, the member should log on to their account using the ERSRI Member Portal and use the Pension Projection Tool to calculate their eligible date of retirement and estimated pension benefit amount.
As an active member (not receiving a monthly ERSRI pension), ERSRI can provide you with a current member balance reflecting your total member contributions. ERSRI will also provide you with a breakdown of your current service credit, the date you began membership in the plan, an estimated monthly pension benefit based on service accrued to date, and an estimated date of eligibility for retirement. ERSRI is unable to provide estimates on future accruals and/or salaries.
As a retired member (receiving a monthly ERSRI pension), ERSRI can provide you with confirmation of your current monthly benefit amount and the benefit option you elected at the time of retirement.
As a member of the retirement system, you can create an account using the ERSRI Member Portal where you are able to see current service credit, beneficiary information, and calculate your eligible date of retirement.
No. An Alternate Payee will begin collecting the benefit when the Participant retires and begins collecting. The QDRO cannot require ERSRI to segregate any portion of the Participant’s benefit that is awarded to the Alternate Payee into a separate account. ERSRI will not approve and qualify any order which requires the Participant to retire at a certain age or on a certain date.
No. The role of ERSRI in approving QDROs is simply to determine whether the QDRO satisfies the requirements of the retirement plan and relates solely to the technical requirements. ERSRI cannot give legal or actuarial advice with regard to the terms of the QDRO, the future value of the benefit, or tax consequences. You should seek assistance from a lawyer who is well versed in the area of domestic relations orders for legal advice.
The draft QDRO should be submitted to ERSRI as soon as possible. Although the Participant may not be ready to retire, the QDRO provides ERSRI with instruction as to what benefits are to be awarded to the Alternate Payee in the event of the Participant’s death prior to retirement or election to withdraw their funds upon termination. Should the draft QDRO need modifications, the required changes can be addressed by the attorneys and/or Court.
Since all situations differ, it can take a few weeks to several months for ERSRI to qualify and approve a domestic relations order. That is why once you know a QDRO is necessary, it is important that the draft be submitted in a timely manner.
For Participants who have already retired and then get divorced, a QDRO cannot require retroactive payments. Benefits to the Alternate Payee will be effective the month following the month it is received by ERSRI.
If you selected a joint and survivor option at the time of retirement, you may exercise your right to revoke or modify that retirement option selection one time. The notice of modification or revocation must be filed with and approved by the Retirement System prior to the commencement of divorce proceedings against or by the named beneficiary in the RI Family Court or in a foreign court of equal jurisdiction.
Once you are divorced, if you are not required to maintain your ex-spouse as beneficiary to the joint and survivor option, you may exercise your one-time option by changing to the SRA option. You will not be allowed to change your beneficiary at any time if you select a joint and survivor option.
In addition, you should inform your attorney of the option you selected at the time of retirement. If you are unsure of which option you selected, please contact our office.
The Beneficiary Nomination form must be completed as instructed in the QDRO and must include any additional beneficiaries for any remaining money which is not to be paid to your former spouse.
No, the Alternate Payee’s portion of the pension has no survivor benefit. If the Alternate Payee dies prior to the Participant’s retirement, or any time after the commencement of benefits, that share will revert back to the Participant. The Participant will be required to produce a copy of the Alternate Payee’s death certificate.
Lump sum payments can only be made to an Alternate Payee under a QDRO if the Participant has terminated employment and has elected to take a refund of contributions in lieu of a monthly pension benefit. The QDRO must specify payment instructions for both a monthly benefit and a lump sum payment.
In either instance, ERSRI would need a Court Order stating that the previous QDRO has been vacated and/or that the former spouse has waived interest in the Participant’s pension. These court orders sometimes take the form of a Consent Order and Waiver.
ERSRI is in possession of QDROs dating back several years. Once you are ready to retire, your QDRO will be reviewed for approval. In some cases, it may be necessary to amend the QDRO in order for ERSRI to begin making payments to you and your Alternate Payee.
You or your lawyer must provide ERSRI with a certified copy of your divorce decree and property or marital settlement agreement which was signed by the Judge and entered with the Court.
Once a draft has been completed, it can be submitted to ERSRI, Attention: Legal Department via fax to (401) 462-7691 or by US Mail to ERSRI, 50 Service Ave., 2nd Floor, Warwick, RI 02886. Email can also be used. Please request email information by calling (401) 462-7600.
Once ERSRI qualifies the Order, we will return it to the sender for entry with the Court. At that time, a certified copy showing the Judge’s signature and date the document was filed with the Court must be sent to ERSRI for placement in the member’s file.
A QDRO cannot require multiple payment arrangements either increasing or decreasing the monthly pension. The terms of the Order may be amended at a later date by providing ERSRI with an amended court-approved Order which supersedes the terms of the existing Order on file with ERSRI.
The SRA Plus Social Security Option allows for a greater benefit to the retiree until age 62 when the benefit is reduced. If the QDRO is silent on the issue, the Alternate Payee will receive the greater amount until the Participant reaches age 62 and will receive the reduced amount thereafter, if this method is actuarially feasible.
The determination regarding a COLA is made by the parties and should be addressed in the Property or Marital Settlement Agreement. If a COLA is awarded to the Alternate Payee, it will be paid in accordance with the QDRO. If the Participant is already retired, the COLA language in the QDRO should state whether the Alternate Payee will immediately begin receiving a portion of the COLA already received by the Participant or whether the Alternate Payee will receive a percentage of future COLAs paid to the Participant.
For retirees and their former spouses, the QDRO is effective the month following the date it is received by ERSRI. You can expect to see payments deducted from your monthly pension within 2 to 3 months after we receive the Order. The Alternate Payee will receive his or her benefit within the same time period, 2 to 3 months after we receive the Order. Therefore, the first payment deducted from your pension benefit and paid to your former spouse will include retroactive amounts dating back to the month following the date the Order is received by ERSRI. If you are a Participant who is currently making payments directly to the Alternate Payee, you should contact your attorney regarding when you should cease making those payments. ERSRI WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE REIMBURSEMENT TO THE PARTICIPANT OF ANY PAYMENTS THE PARTICIPANT MAKES DIRECTLY TO THE FORMER SPOUSE ONCE ERSRI IS IN RECEIPT OF THE QDRO.
For QDRO information and forms for the Defined Contribution portion of your pension administered by TIAA, you or your attorney should visit TIAA’s website at www.tiaa.org or call TIAA directly at (800) 842-2252.