If you are getting divorced, it’s important to consider the impact on your VRS benefits. Review the information on this page to help you and your attorney become familiar with how VRS member benefits may be divided in a divorce.
An Approved Domestic Relations Order (ADRO) is a court-issued document required to divide VRS retirement plan assets as part of a divorce. VRS administers defined benefit and defined contribution retirement plans. Each is treated differently in a divorce.
To facilitate ADRO processing, VRS has developed two required forms. You may need both:
ADRO-Defined Benefit Plan Form
For defined benefit pension assets in:
- VRS Plan 1
- VRS Plan 2
- Defined benefit component of the Hybrid Retirement Plan
ADRO-Defined Contribution Plan Form
For defined contribution assets in:
- Commonwealth of Virginia 457 Deferred Compensation Plan
- Virginia 401(a) Cash Match Plan
- Hybrid 457 Deferred Compensation Plan
- Hybrid 401(a) Cash Match Plan
- Optional Retirement Plan for Higher Education
- Optional Retirement Plan for Political Appointees
- Optional Retirement Plan for School Superintendents
Important: You must use VRS forms when submitting an ADRO. You may not alter the forms. VRS will administer approved domestic relations orders submitted before VRS ADRO forms became mandatory on January 1, 2020. However, VRS bears no legal responsibility for ensuring members comply with actions required by the ADRO and will process retirement applications as submitted by the retiree.
How Do Defined Benefit and Defined Contribution Plans Differ?
A defined benefit plan provides a fixed, pre-established monthly lifetime benefit at retirement, with a cost-of-living adjustment evaluated annually, based on a Code of Virginia statutory formula. Assets in a defined benefit pension account cannot be divided in a divorce until you retire except in the case of a refund. The dollar amount, or percentage, that a former spouse, also known as the alternate payee, may be awarded in a divorce settlement depends on several factors but is based primarily on the number of years you were married while accruing service under the defined benefit plan.
A defined contribution plan is a savings plan with contributions made by you and your employer (if applicable), plus the earnings or losses from the investment of those contributions. A defined contribution account does not provide you with a monthly lifetime payment unless you use your account balance to purchase an annuity at retirement. Assets in a defined contribution account can be divided at the time of divorce without penalty to you, even if you are still actively employed or are younger than the IRS distribution age (59½).
What is marital share? How is it calculated?
The marital share is usually expressed as a percentage or fraction. The marital share is the amount of VRS service credit (in months) you earned or purchased during the marriage up until the date of last separation, divided by the total amount of service credit (in months) earned in your career. Example: A member works for 30 years (360 months) while married for 15 years (180 months). The marital share is calculated as 180 months divided by 360 months, which equals 0.5 (or 50%).
What is a PLOP? How is it treated in divorce?
If you work one to three years beyond the date you qualify for unreduced retirement benefits, you may be eligible for a Partial Lump Sum Option (PLOP) upon retirement. The amount of the PLOP payment will reduce your total retirement benefit by an actuarially determined amount. Your former spouse will receive a prorated amount of the PLOP unless you select Option 3 (a fixed dollar amount per month) on the ADRO defined benefit form.
What is a COLA, and how is it treated?
Cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) assist with rising costs during retirement. The COLA is based on a statutory formula. During years of no inflation or deflation, the COLA will be 0%. COLAs, if any, will be proportionately applied to both your benefit and your former spouse’s monthly benefit unless you select Option 3 (a fixed dollar amount per month) on the ADRO defined benefit form.
What is a Hazardous Duty Supplement, and how is it treated?
If you retire with at least 20 years of hazardous duty service credit, you may be eligible to receive a hazardous duty supplement to your retirement benefit. The supplement is a dollar amount added to the monthly defined benefit payment. It continues until normal Social Security retirement age for state police officers and political subdivision employees eligible for enhanced hazardous duty coverage. The supplement continues until age 65 for eligible VaLORS members under the 1.7% multiplier. VaLORS members under the 2.0% multiplier are not eligible for the supplement. The supplement is included in the division of the monthly retirement benefit in accordance with an ADRO.
What is the survivor option?
As a VRS member, you can elect to receive a lower monthly retirement benefit during your lifetime so that your survivor can receive a monthly benefit after your death. You can name any living person as your survivor, and you can also name more than one survivor. When electing the survivor option, you will choose a whole percentage of your VRS benefit, between 10% and 100%, to go to your survivor. Your benefit amount is based on this percentage, your age and the age of your survivor at retirement. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requirements may limit the percentage that can go to a non-spouse survivor. If you’ve retired and received your first VRS benefit payment before an ADRO is filed, the choice of survivor option on the ADRO defined benefit form does not apply. Once you retire, you generally cannot change the survivor option except in limited circumstances.
What are gains and losses?
When a defined contribution plan account is divided, the parties may choose to include gains and losses in the calculation of the former spouse’s distribution, to the extent possible based on information available to VRS. When including gains and losses, the defined contribution plan account is valued as of a certain date, called the valuation date. The amount awarded to the former spouse will account for the investment gains or losses in the account from the valuation date through the date the account is officially divided, known as the division date.
Before submitting an ADRO to VRS, review these instructions:
- VRS will not act on or administer a divorce decree or a property settlement agreement; you must complete and submit VRS ADRO forms that have been entered by a court.
- VRS will not accept submissions if VRS ADRO forms are not used or if VRS forms have been altered.
- VRS ADRO forms must be signed by a judge before submission.
- Submit completed and signed ADROs to VRS as soon as possible following a divorce. Do not wait until retirement to submit.
- If you are already retired and submitting an ADRO, VRS will only pay benefits prospectively from the date the forms are fully processed and to the extent it is possible post-retirement.
- Submit defined contribution plan ADRO forms to VRS for approval before providing forms to VRS third-party administrators (MissionSquare Retirement or TIAA) for final processing. Be aware that third-party administrators may charge fees and require additional forms.
- Pursuant to state law, VRS will accept defined contribution ADROs that require gains or losses calculations from the valuation date to the extent that data is available to complete those calculations. MissionSquare Retirement has been the record keeper for VRS DC plans since 2014. TIAA-CREF has been the record keeper for certain ORPHE plans since 2006.
- The former spouse (alternate payee) is responsible for maintaining their current contact information with VRS.
When you or your attorney submit an ADRO to VRS, follow these steps.
- Do not submit draft orders; submit only final forms signed by a judge.
- Use only VRS ADRO forms that have not been altered.
- Complete the defined benefit and/or the defined contribution form, based on your plan type. You may have assets in both plans, which will require both forms.
- Check each form for completeness and accuracy before submitting.
- Select only one benefit division option per section and include the corresponding percentage or dollar amount and dates, if applicable.
- If selecting a survivor option, be aware that if you are already retired from VRS, the member benefit payout option you selected at retirement will not change and you can no longer elect a new or different survivor option.
- Per IRS requirements, a significant age difference between the VRS member and a former spouse (alternate payee) who is named by the VRS member as a survivor may require a reduction in the maximum allowable survivor percentage.
- Include your former spouse’s Social Security number in a separate confidential addendum with the form submission.
Submit ADROs securely:
Mail:Virginia Retirement System
P.O. Box 2500
Richmond, VA 23218-2500
(contact VRS for instructions)
Do not use unencrypted email.
- Include your contact information with submission.