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The Majauskas Formula and retirement plans in divorce

If you are filing for divorce in New York and have a retirement plan or are eligible for a pension, then you will almost certainly hear the term “Majauskas Formula” during your case. A 1984 New York State Court of Appeals case titled Majauskas v Majauskas established the right of one spouse to the other’s retirement plan during divorce and presented a formula for calculating the marital share.

An overview of the case

Majauskas v Majauskas, 61 N.Y.2d 481 (NY 1984) was originally decided in 1981 and affirmed first by the Appellate Division of the Fourth Department (1983) and the Court of Appeals (1984).

The husband was a City of Rochester police officer who had been participating in the New York State pension plan for over eight years or 99 months in total. The value of his accrued benefits at the time of divorce was $31,025.29. He and his wife had been married for 90 of those months, representing $28,204.81 of that total.

In determining Mrs. Majauskas’ share of her husband’s retirement fund, the court considered the following:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The duration of Mr. Majauskas’ employment
  • Whether or not his pension benefits were vested, making him entitled to receive a pension benefit equal to the value of his contributions.

Mr. Majauskas’ attorney tried to argue that any division of his client’s pension rights should only be for the period after July 19, 1980, which was when New York’s Equitable Distribution Law took effect. Prior to the passing of this law, all assets titled in one spouse’s name remained their separate property after divorce.

Had the argument succeeded, Mrs. Majauskas would have received a portion of barely a year’s worth of benefits, but the court disagreed. Instead, it ruled that:

  • Vested and unmatured pension benefits earned during the marriage were marital property
  • The proper formula for division of these benefits was based on their value at retirement, not at the date of the divorce.

Today, this formula is applied to all retirement benefits, including pensions, deferred compensation, IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457s, and profit-sharing plans. Divorcing spouses also have the option of negotiating their own settlements, which is common in cases where both parties have retirement plans.

Obtaining a Qualified Domestic Relations Order

In New York, a spouse seeking a share of retirement assets must obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO. This order directs pension and retirement plan administrators to divide the payments in accordance with the court order.

Contact a New York divorce attorney

Jayson Lutzky is a Bronx divorce lawyer handling both contested and uncontested cases. If you intend to file for divorce and one or both spouses have a pension plan, then Mr. Lutzky will take all necessary steps to ensure that you obtain the benefits that you are entitled to receive. Mr. Lutzky offers free in-person initial consultations and can be reached at 718-329-9500.

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