The Emotional Impact of Dividing Retirement Savings During Divorce

Dividing Retirement Savings During Divorce

Very few divorces are simple to navigate; when families and couples divide, the division of financial matters can also become unclear. This is especially true for couples who choose to divorce over the age of 50, a process colloquially known as “gray divorce.” In the United States alone, more than one in three people opt to divorce after the age of 50.

When divorce occurs later in life, after you’ve amassed significant assets and property together, the prospect can lead to confusion and dread. In particular, many couples are unsure how divorce will affect their retirement savings or are stumped regarding how to divide their retirement savings properly. Don’t stress: it’s normal for couples to be wary of their finances after a divorce, but you don’t have to deal with the process by yourself.

At The Valley Law Group, we’ve helped hundreds of clients throughout the Phoenix, AZ, area navigate divorce. No matter your age or circumstances, we’re prepared to gather as much information as we need to ensure you achieve a fair outcome for all aspects of your case, including the division of assets and retirement accounts. The prospect of dividing retirement savings can be daunting as you consider relinquishing a portion of your lifetime financial work, but with our help, you can secure as much of your funds as possible.

Financial Stress in Divorce: Retirement Accounts

Financial Stress in Divorce

As stressful as financial matters are, especially during a divorce, they can be easier to deal with when you have the proper information at hand.

For instance, there are multiple retirement account types, and knowing information about your accounts is critical for your divorce preparation.

  • 401(k) – A 401(k) account is typically offered by the employer, and you won’t have to pay income tax on the amount you put into the account.
  • Traditional IRA – An IRA account is a savings account that grows on a tax-deferred or tax-free basis. This is one of the most common methods of retirement planning.
  • Roth IRA –  A Roth IRA account is similar to the standard IRA account, but you only pay tax when you put money into the Roth IRA.
  • Employer Pension – A pension plan is provided by the employer and provides a specific payment arrangement when you retire. However, this method is becoming less common.

In Arizona, the family court system treats retirement accounts and pensions just as it would any other community property, as the funds were earned during the course of the marriage. They are subject to division between the two spouses during a divorce. However, it is important to consider that contribution and benefits-based accounts may be divided differently.

Accounts considered “defined contribution accounts,” like the IRAs and 401(k)s mentioned above, earn interest over time, and each spouse is entitled to a fair portion of the value of the account at divorce. Pension plans, known as “defined benefit accounts” may or may not have required contributions from you and/or your employer, and depending on the terms of your pension, the court may divide the value of the account, the upcoming pension payments, or both.

Consult with a skilled Arizona divorce attorney to determine the likely division of your unique retirement account, any upcoming payments, and the tax implications of the split.

The Emotional Toll of Splitting Retirement Funds

Retirement Funds

While dividing assets you’ve worked hard to acquire – like your home and other properties – can be distressing, few assets are as personal and individualized as a retirement account. This account typically represents the hard-earned results of a lifetime of employment. Unfortunately, approaching its division can often be more emotionally impactful than anticipated.

That’s why your emotional well-being during the division of retirement savings is a crucial consideration during the divorce process. If you aren’t emotionally cared for, you can struggle to keep a clear head when dealing with legal matters pertaining to not only the division of your retirement accounts but the rest of your divorce. Still, it’s important to remember that while both partners involved in a divorce can begin to experience a wide range of emotions, all are normal.


It’s completely normal to feel angry at your partner in a divorce. They may have said or done something that crosses your boundaries, whether during your marriage (leading to the divorce in the first place) or during the divorce proceedings. More specifically, you may feel angry that your retirement funds are being divided, especially if you feel you have contributed more to your retirement savings than your spouse. While keeping calm and courteous throughout the divorce process is beneficial, don’t forget that you are allowed to feel angry.


A recent study showed that nearly 60% of couples cited infidelity as the reason for divorce. The other partner may understandably feel betrayed when the person they’ve loved for many decades is unfaithful. When significant assets like retirement funds are on the line, this betrayal can begin to affect the way you approach your divorce proceedings. Feeling betrayed is common, but it’s important to keep a clear head as well as an eye on Arizona divorce requirements.


You may have an idea of what your future will look like after your divorce, but that doesn’t make the process any more familiar. How will your kids be impacted? How will your retirement fund be split? You may not know the answers to these types of questions immediately, but most will be addressed as the divorce proceedings unfold. In situations like these, it’s wise to speak with a divorce lawyer who can assist you with every step of the process.

Consider Also: Why Are Older Couples Divorcing?

Gray divorce has increased tremendously since 1990. According to Pew Research, the number of gray divorces in the US nearly doubled between 1990 and 2015. However, not only is divorce on the rise but so is public acceptance. Between 1994 and 2012, people tended to be more supportive of divorce than ever before

While there are no known concrete reasons for these divorces, there are multiple consistent behaviors that often coincide with gray divorce. The emotional impacts of these factors tend to apply to the emotional toll of dividing retirement savings and other assets once the divorce occurs.

Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome is a situation where parents feel a sense of loss, fear, grief, or difficulty adapting after their children have left home and become adults. As children leave the home, one or both parents can begin to wonder what’s going to happen next now that they’ve moved out. This condition can significantly impact a parent’s emotional health and increase stress. When couples are unsure of what lies ahead, this can add to other conditions like depression and anxiety, which may interfere with daily life and negatively impact marriage.

Divorce Is Financially Easier Today

One of the largest roadblocks to divorce in the past was the idea that one spouse was the breadwinner while the other stayed at home and took care of the children. This scenario prevented many women, who were typically the caregivers, from seeking divorce due to the financial imbalance inherent in these marriages. Today, however, it is more common for both spouses to earn an income, reducing the likelihood of the divorce causing an insurmountable financial hurdle.

That said, divorce is rarely easy, either emotionally or financially, and both aspects of your life will still change radically.

Falling Out of Love

Simply put, many couples who divorce have fallen out of love with each other and wish to explore other possibilities. In the past, older individuals often experienced fewer opportunities for dating, career changes, and other important factors. Now, however, after some initial focus on dividing years’ worth of assets and shared finances, more couples are finding it possible to reinvent themselves after divorce.

Building Coping Strategies and Addressing Your Emotional Well-Being

No matter when you divorce, it can feel like the end of the world. You and your partner have spent decades of your lives solving problems, raising children, and supporting each other and your families, all for it to fall apart. Fortunately, life isn’t over after divorce. In fact, most couples genuinely feel happier after the divorce has been finalized and they’ve moved on with their lives.

There are plenty of coping strategies to consider after a divorce, especially when the process has essentially divided your retirement savings in two.

Reinvent Yourself

Divorce can present an excellent opportunity to not only figure out who you are but reinvent yourself after your partnership ends. You may feel freer to explore certain beliefs, passions, or interests that went unexplored during the marriage. Or, you may have set aside projects or refrained from trying new things because you were married. Decades of marriage can often lead to somewhat of a shared identity between spouses, and this may be the optimal time to remember, realize, or reinvent who you are.

It can be nerve-wracking to take the first step forward and make a massive change like divorce, but that’s arguably the hardest step of the entire journey. Rather than spending the rest of your life upset over the end of your partnership or the dividing of your savings, take time to explore new opportunities and reserve your funds for things that are important to you and you alone.

Meet With a Therapist or Counselor

The longer you bottle up your emotions and feelings toward your ex-spouse, the harder life will become. Rather than relive the end of your marriage in your head, work with a counselor or therapist to help you make sense of it all.

A licensed therapist or counselor will ask questions to begin understanding who you are and how you think. If they notice any patterns in your behaviors, you can start working on changing them to healthier ones.

A counselor can also help you process your thoughts after your divorce. You may have questions about how to make life more fulfilling, something your therapist can help you with. Sometimes, it may be a simple change, while other times, your therapist can work with you to create a new plan to move forward independently of your ex.

Make New Friends and Embrace Loved Ones

Something often overlooked when dealing with emotional stress from divorce and the division of retirement funds is the support you need throughout the process. There’s no shame in relying on loved ones to support you through these challenging legal and financial matters. It’s easy to forget you have loved ones who care for you, so be sure to ask for – and accept – their support as you navigate this difficult stage of your life.

Of course, you can also make new friends who understand what you are experiencing. Many people divorcing later in life choose to meet in person or online to share their experiences, discuss coping strategies, and navigate the future together. Support groups can be a great option if you need that extra social connection.

Rebuilding and Looking Forward Financially

Rebuilding and Looking Forward Financially

The other type of rebuilding you’ll need to consider after a divorce is financial rebuilding. After all, you no longer have access to all the funds you once had, including a portion of your retirement savings. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t retire as planned. By taking specific steps to improve your financial security, you can move forward in life on your own.

Consider the following steps when rebuilding your retirement goals.

Make Sure You Know What You Want

You and your spouse may have created an extensive roadmap of how your lives would look after retirement. After the divorce, ask yourself if you truly want to remain on this path or create a new one that meets your new needs as a single individual. As simple as it sounds, take some time and think about what you want without considering your ex-spouse.

Think about aspects such as:

  • Who’s in your life
  • What daily life looks like
  • What you want out of life
If you can clearly define some essential things you now want in life, you’ll have an easier time determining what you’ll need to achieve them. You can then begin working toward that goal.

Hire a Financial Planner

If accounting isn’t your strong suit, don’t panic: a financial planner can help you determine what you have, what you’ll need to achieve your retirement goals, and assess what your options are down the line. A financial planner can also help you begin budgeting so you can grow your retirement savings even more quickly than ever before. You deserve to have a fulfilling future after you’ve retired, and with the help of a financial planner, you can incorporate various strategies to help you move forward from your divorce and have enough in retirement.

Don’t Hesitate to Get Started

After your divorce has been finalized, don’t wait to find out if you’ll have the resources you need to enjoy your retirement. Make sure you understand exactly how much you have to work with and how much more you need to meet your retirement goals. While circumstances will change along the way, having a clear-cut plan and an early start can help you ensure you make as much progress as possible. In addition, don’t hesitate to reach out to others for support, whether financial or emotional.

Consult With a Divorce Lawyer Today

If you’re facing a divorce and the division of your retirement accounts, the skilled family law team at The Valley Law Group in Phoenix, AZ, can assist you. We know how difficult managing finances and working through Arizona’s legal system can be, but we have the credentials and experience necessary to ensure you retain as much of your retirement savings as possible. Countless individuals in Phoenix and the Valley area have reaped the benefits of our representation.

Learn more about how to approach divorce and the division of assets in Arizona by contacting us today to schedule a consultation.


  1. Brown, S. L., & Lin, I-Fen. (2022). The Graying of Divorce: A Half Century of Change. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbac057
  2. Scott, S. B., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Allen, E. S., & Markman, H. J. (2013). Reasons for divorce and recollections of premarital intervention: Implications for improving relationship education. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 2(2), 131–145. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0032025
  3. Stepler, R. (2017, March 9). Led by Baby Boomers, Divorce Rates Climb for America’s 50+ Population. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2017/03/09/led-by-baby-boomers-divorce-rates-climb-for-americas-50-population/
  4. ‌Brown, S. L., & Wright, M. R. (2019). Divorce Attitudes Among Older Adults: Two Decades of Change. Journal of Family Issues, 40(8), 1018–1037. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513×19832936
  5. Bougea, A., Despoti, A., & Vasilopoulos, E. (2020). Empty-nest-related psychosocial stress: Conceptual issues, future directions in economic crisis. Psychiatriki, 30(4), 329–338. https://doi.org/10.22365/jpsych.2019.304.329

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