Everything that accumulates in the course of a marriage is fair game to be divided up when the decision is made to end the marriage. In Pennsylvania, we have equitable distribution of marital assets. Equitable means economically fair and that may or may not be equal. (You can find specific information about equitable distribution on my site here: https://padivorce.com/
To simplify this and keep it short, if the parties cannot agree, the Court will decide and may give more to the party who is worse off financially and who has been good or bad will not matter. It is the Court’s task to end the marriage in the way most likely to allow both parties to succeed financially going forward (or, at the very least, to minimize the likelihood of either needing a welfare check from the State).
One thing that some people have is a retirement plan or pension. Over time, money accumulates in the plan and the plan becomes increasingly more valuable. It is common for the party who owns such a plan to consider it that party’s sole and exclusive property to which the other party has no right. Sorry, but that is just not the case. The money in that plan, if accumulated during the marriage, is an asset subject to be divided up by the Court (in cases, once again, wherein the parties themselves cannot agree).
Every so often, the parties agree not to make a claim against the other’s plan, typically when each party has a plan and the value of the plans are sufficiently comparable so to make paying a lawyer to fight for a share to be counterproductive. Or, as part of a negotiated settlement, the party without a plan gets another asset in exchange for not making a claim to the other party’s plan.
In cases wherein no claim is to be made against a plan, the owner of the plan is advised to remove the other party as a beneficiary of that plan, preferably before the divorce is over. Done that way, the extra expense of a professionally prepared settlement agreement will not be required.
In cases wherein it is agreed to share a plan, there are several different possibilities. A very straightforward one is to simply reach into the plan funds and give the agreed amount to the other party. A frequent problem with that approach is that there may be rather heavy tax consequences for an early withdrawal. Of course, it is possible to work that out so that the tax is shared or otherwise worked out or compensated for in a settlement agreement. Another possibility is for the amount to be shared to be taken from another account where taxes are irrelevant, such as checking or savings.
Finally, if it is agreed that the plan’s fund will be shared when the party retires, the plan administrator can be instructed to pay out the installments to each party in specific amounts when retirement begins. For that to be effected, it is likely that the plan administrator will have to be specifically ordered by the Court whom to pay how much and when. For that to happen, a settlement agreement is ineffective and a Qualified Domestic Relations Order of Court (QDRO) will have to be prepared and made part of the final divorce decree.