What is a Joinder in California Divorce And Does My Retirement Plan Require One?

Learn about joinder in California divorce and its impact on retirement plans. Discover when it's required, how it affects your assets, and steps to protect your future in this informative blog post.

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Getting divorced in California can be a complex process, with both state and federal laws governing the division of marital property, including retirement accounts. One potential issue that arises in California divorce cases is the need for a joinder, which is a legal document that attaches the parties’ retirement account administrators as part of your divorce. 

In this blog post, we will provide an overview of what a joinder is, when it is required in a California divorce, and how it affects your retirement plan. We will also discuss what steps you can take to protect your retirement funds if you are in the process of getting divorced in California. Armed with the knowledge contained in this post, you can better understand your options and take the right steps to protect your share of the retirement assets at issue in your divorce.

  1. A joinder makes your retirement plan a party to your divorce

When going through a divorce in California, a joinder is a document that is filed in order to make your retirement plan a party to your divorce. The joinder technically sues the retirement plan and brings them into your case. This typically has two effects: it allows the plan to talk to both parties about the retirement accounts, and it will typically result in a “freeze” of the accounts, preventing either party from retiring or accessing the funds until the QDRO is done.

  1. A joinder is a thick stack of court forms

What is a joinder? It is a lot of forms. We actually automated the forms and made the paperwork free to the public for a while, but we’re in the process of updating those automations now. 

The tricky part of joinders isn’t filling out that very thick stack of California court forms – they are pretty straightforward. It is what you do after you fill them out that is the problem:

  • You’ll need to bring multiple copies of the summons, request, and pleading for joinder forms to the courthouse (or e-file). The clerk will stamp the summons.
  • You then have to serve the three documents, plus a few others, plus a couple of blank forms, on the retirement plan. The plan will sign some papers and return them to you (or file them directly with the court if the plan is experienced with e-filing). 
  • You have to return the summons to the court with your information filled out on the back describing when and how you served the plan. 

Once that is all done – with no mistakes – the plan is joined. 

  1. A joinder may freeze the retirement account pending a QDRO

When a joinder is completed, it usually means the retirement plan will freeze the retirement account pending a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO. This ensures that the retirement account will not be emptied before funds are distributed to the receiving spouse. In cases where the employee is already retired and receiving benefits, the plan may, depending on its rules, continue paying the participant a reduced pension pending the QDRO. Typically, this is half of their monthly pension. 

  1. A joinder may allow the retirement plan to discuss the accounts with both parties

A joinder allows a retirement plan to discuss a person’s retirement plan accounts with both parties in a divorce proceeding. This means that the plan administrator is allowed to disclose information about the account to both parties, such as the balance and any other relevant information. The joinder also allows the retirement plan to directly send copies of the documents related to the retirement plan accounts to both parties. This helps to ensure both parties have the information necessary to come to an agreement about the division of the accounts.

  1. A joinder is required by state and local government retirement plans, as well as a few private and church plans

In California, a joinder is required by state and local government retirement plans, as well as a few private and church plans. It is important to realize that if a joinder is required by your retirement plan, it must be filed with the court before your QDRO can be finalized. Failing to file a joinder can result in delays in the QDRO proceedings, even if the QDRO has already been signed and delivered to the plan.

The joinder is an important part of QDROs in a California divorce. It basically buys both parties time and gives them access to information necessary to get the QDRO done. If you are currently divorcing, you will want to ask your attorney to address the joinder issue so that the plans are secured until you get around to handling the QDRO. 

Willie Peacock
Author: Willie Peacock

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