The California State Teachers Retirement System (also known as CalSTRS) provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to teachers and their families. More specifically, eligible beneficiaries include vested teachers who have served in California school districts, community colleges, and administration offices. If initiated while married, a spouse’s CalSTRS pension benefits are classified as community property. Therefore, an individual with a CalSTRS pension must divide it with their spouse upon divorce, unless the parties agree otherwise.
Overview of CalSTRS Pension Plans
CalSTRS provides three different types of retirement plans:
1) Defined Benefit Program participants receive a lifetime benefit based on their years of service credit, final compensation, and age.
2) Defined Benefit Supplement provides additional funds to members upon retirement.
3) Cash Balance Plan for part-time teachers allows retired members to choose to receive a lump-sum payment of their account balance if it exceeds $3500. Alternatively, they may roll it over into another retirement account.
How to Divide CalSTRS Retirement Benefits
Upon divorce, both parties must follow a specific process to join the CalSTRS pension to the divorce. After joining the pension, the couple can finalize a CalSTRS pension retirement division. Next, upon filing a divorce petition, the parties must also serve CalSTRS with legal documents indicating a party is claiming a community property interest in a CalSTRS pension. This process is known as a joinder.
The Joinder Process
The joinder formally brings CalSTRS into the divorce proceedings as an interested party. Now, CalSTRS has 30 days to file a response to the joinder. Furthermore, the joinder puts a legal hold on the retirement account. Therefore, the CalSTRS member will not be able to make any account changes. For example, they may not designate beneficiaries or take other action during this time.
Dividing CalSTRS Benefits With The Segregation Method
There are two formulas for dividing a CalSTRS benefit account. The first formula, also referred to as the “Segregation Method” is used by members that divorce prior to receiving a retirement or disability benefit. With this formula, the non-member spouse receives 50% of the member’s service credit, contributions, and interest accrued from the date of marriage to the date of separation. Additionally, they may access this lifetime monthly benefit when they reach 55.
Dividing CalSTRS Benefits With The Time Order Rule
The second option, referred to as the “Time Order Rule,” is used by members who divorce before or while receiving a retirement or disability benefit. With this rule, the non-member spouse receives a percentage of the member’s monthly benefit. Specifically, CalSTRS calculates this percentage based upon the service credit earned while married. Under this formula, the non-member spouse will receive their benefit after the member spouse retires.
Social Security Benefits
CalSTRS member spouses will not receive Social Security upon reaching the age of eligibility because they did not pay into Social Security while working as a teacher. However, if the spouse vested into Social Security prior to or after serving as a teacher, their Social Security benefit will be offset by their CalSTRS benefit. On the other hand, the non-teacher spouse can receive their Social Security benefit.
Contact A People’s Choice for more information about CalSTRS pension retirement division. We can help you prepare the required joinder and qualified domestic relations order.
Is there a way to collect on a court awarded half of Calstrs retirement if the member has not yet started drawing his portion even at age 71+?
I would reach out to CalSTRS to see what they say about options you may have. Every situation is different.
Can my spouse receive STRS benefits and his social security benefits after a divorce when he retires?
You may want to speak with a Social Security attorney regarding this.
My spouse filed for divorce recently. He is the CalSTRS member. We were only married for 43 mos., but he is stating that our dos was two months after the marriage.
While it’s true that I moved out of our home at that time (he committed dv against me), we never even legally separated, and still filed taxes together until last year. I even moved back in temporarily last summer when he supposedly contracted Covit. My question is this: If the dos is contested, how will CalSTRS know how to divide anything? Also, I don’t even know what communtity property benefits I’m entitled to becuase he kept all of that very secret. He even camce;lled my health insurance, although I don’t know how. He retired while we were still married. What does that mean for me as far as benefits go? I can’t seem to get this information from CalSTRS, and while he has an attorney, I can’t afford one, so I don’t know what to do.
Hello and thank you for your email. Unfortunately, we are not attorneys so cannot provide any legal advice. You could try the legal website avvo.com.
What if both are CalSTRS members? How do you divide then?
I would assume you would divide both.
CalSTRS tells me that my ex ( the teacher ) can annuitize her defined benefit supplement account, but that I can not. I have to roll it over or have it refunded in one payment. This is not fair, discriminating against the non-member spouse. The refund application (RF1356) that they sent me also states: “When you refund . . . you terminate your Nonmember spouse account and FORFEIT your rights to all CalSTRS benefits.” This sounds like they want me to give up my court awarded monthly check, death benefit, etc.
Hi Greg. It is hard to say. You may want to talk to a lawyer if you need legal advice regarding this matter.
Can a divorce court deny me my 1/2 of the community interest in the CalSTRS pension? CalSTRS has been joined, we know the split. In a property distribution/division can the judge deny me my portion? (In a offset so to speak against say debt?)
We could not offer comment on this as there could be a variety of factors that a judge could consider in how an equitable division of assets is achieved.