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On your wedding day, you took a vow to stand by your spouse, “for richer and poorer…till death do us part.” Now, though, your goal is to get through your divorce with a fair share of your marriage assets still intact. 

A lengthy marriage likely means that your largest financial asset is your 401(k). Strategies are available for protecting your retirement savings in a divorce. 

Taking the court route 

Rule No. 1: Be honest and thorough about reporting all your assets. If a judge discovers you are hiding any assets, he or she could award a greater share to your spouse. 

Your spouse can claim part of your 401(k) unless you have a prenuptial agreement. In the absence of an agreement, a court will determine how to split your retirement savings. 

In general, money added to your retirement account while married is marital property. In other words, your spouse can stake a claim to some of the funds. 

The reverse is true, as well. If you contributed to your spouse’s retirement account, you are eligible for a deduction. 

Taking an alternative route 

Another option is negotiating with your spouse over your marital assets. Avoiding court – and confrontation – comes with advantages. The process is quicker and less costly, and the proceedings are not open to the public. A judge must approve the agreement. 

You also have more control over the process because you are not bound by normal legal procedures. You sidestep legal “surprises” in court. You and your spouse are, for practical purposes, agreeing on your own rules. 

Always seek a fair settlement of assets and avoid the temptation of accepting a cash settlement from your spouse. The payment can be subject to major financial penalties, leaving you with much less money. 

Taking the surest route 

Divorce laws and procedures are complex. Adding the issue of retirement savings makes the process even more difficult. 

Knowing your rights and studying the law can secure a positive outcome for you. A persuasive argument in court can make all the difference.