What is “vesting” and how does it affect my divorce?

Vesting gives an employee rights to employer-provided assets over time, which gives the employee an incentive to perform well and remain with the company. The vesting schedule set up by the company determines when the employee acquires full ownership of the asset. Generally, non-forfeitable rights accrue based on how long the employee has worked there.

Read more: Vesting Definition | Investopedia
If an employee is vested it means that at least some of the retirement plan or stock options belongs to the employee and not the employer. This is the amount an employee is entitled to take when the employee leaves their employer. The portion that is vested comes from two sources:

  • Employee contributions vest immediately. When an employee leaves his employer, he or she is entitled to 100% of his or her contributions plus any earning on those contributions.
  • Employer contributions vest over a period of time. There are multiple types of vesting structures that can be adopted by a retirement or stock option plan. Graded vesting schedules allow for a portion of the funds to vest each year over a set number of years. Cliff vesting schedules provide a vesting of 100% of benefits after a set period of time.

How does vesting affect my asset division in divorce?

A benefit does not have to be vested to be considered an asset subject to division in your divorce but it does mean the funds may not be immediately available for you to spend. Wellspring Divorce Advisors will review your assets and make recommendations as to the true value of unvested assets and suggestions as to how to divide them. Unvested assets such as stock options, restricted stock units, pensions and other executive compensation must be handled carefully in legal agreements and long after the divorce is final. The agreements typically require the deferred division of these unvested assets meaning the employee spouse must maintain the benefits for their former spouse and the former spouse must be diligent in watching for vestings long after the divorce is finalized. Make sure you post-divorce financial advisor is competent in managing this ongoing entanglement with your former spouse

Divorce Financial Planning: Concentrated Stock Holdings During Divorce

financial planning, CDFA

Your Investments

We have many clients with significant wealth tied up in the stock of their employers. During Divorce Financial Planning it may become necessary to create liquidity to pay fees, facilitate an equalization payment or create diversification where there previously was none.

These stock holdings are through vehicles such as Employee Stock Purchase Plans, Stock Options and Restricted Stock. They may be vested, unvested or co-mingled, meaning they have different liquidity constraints. Each vehicle also has a different tax consequence at sale. Here is a quick review of some Divorce Financial Planning considerations to consider when seeking liquidity and diversification during during divorce proceedings.

Stock Holdings

For stock held outright we look at tax basis for guidance in our divorce financial planning. Shares with a low tax basis can be sold today to lock in tax rates and later repurchased if the client wishes to continue to hold the stock.

Restricted Stock

Restricted stock generally releases or distributes into a common brokerage account at vesting so it would be treated as normal stock holdings with divorce financial planning decisions based upon review of tax basis. The tax basis is based upon the stock price on the day of vesting and distribution.

Employee Stock Purchase Plans

Stock held in an Employee Stock Purchase plan has a complicated tax picture. The discount, typically 15%, given to the employee on the initial purchase price is taxed at ordinary income tax rates. The difference between the fair market value at purchase and the fair market value at sale is taxable at capital gains rates. ESPP assets often have low tax basis because employees buy and hold the stock  so this may be the first place to look for harvesting gains and resetting basis during your divorce financial planning.

Stock Options

Non-Qualified stock options carry a more complicated set of tax implications and divorce financial planning considerations. Options are taxed as ordinary income for the difference between the strike price and the price at exercise. Options can be exercised today in a same day exercise and sale transaction to lock in tax rates. If you wished to hold the stock you could still exercise the options and lock in the ordinary income tax rates for 2012 but you would have to come up with cash from another source to fund the option exercise. Stock options also become a complicated logistics issue post divorce as the non-employee spouse may not be able to hold the options. For this reason alone it is worth considering liquidation during your divorce financial planning.

Wellspring Divorce Advisors builds long term distribution schedules and detailed analysis of current versus future values including opportunity cost and present value of money to help clients decide how to manage concentrated stock positions during and immediately after divorce proceedings.


wellspring divorce advisors

Wellspring Divorce Advisors helps individuals and couples address the financial aspects of divorce in a civilized, equitable, and efficient manner by providing expert divorce financial planning and advice.

Contact us to find out how we can help you through this process.







Social Security, Retirement Benefits, and Divorce

Social Security, Retirement Benefits, and Divorce

Social Security in the United States refers directly to a lesser known federal Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance program or OASDI. The program was originally rolled out in the 1930’s in an attempt to limit what were seen as dangers to the American way of life such as increased life expectancy, poverty, and fatherless children. So the Social Security Act, signed in 1935, created social insurance programs to provide benefits to retirees, the unemployed, and as well as a lump sum benefit to the family at death. Many amendments have been made since the original Social Security Act of 1935. Most importantly; Medicare was added in 1965. The Social Security Act of 1965 also recognized for the first time that divorce was becoming a common cause for the end of marriages and added divorcees to the beneficiary list.

When Can I Collect Benefits?

The earliest age at which reduced benefits are payable is 62. The age at which full retirement benefits are available is dependent upon the taxpayers age. An increase of regular retirement age was enacted to reduce the amount of benefits payable. For those currently over age 70 the normal age was 65. Anyone born after will fall somewhere on increasing scale which climbs incrementally to age 67 depending upon birth date. Anyone born after 1960 must reach age 67 for normal retirement benefits. Delaying receipt of benefits will increase a taxpayer’s benefit until age 70.

As A Divorced Spouse What Do I Get?

Divorced spouses are eligible for benefits equal to one half of the worker’s benefit if they were married for 10 years have not remarried and are at least 62 years old. This is called a derivative benefit. A spousal applicant must wait until the worker has reached retirement age, 62, in order to apply for benefits. The worker is not required to have applied for benefits in order for the ex-spouse to apply for spousal benefits. They are not entitled to increases for benefits taken after normal retirement age. If a worker has died and the ex-spouse has reached full retirement age they can receive 100% of the worker’s benefit as survivor benefits.

If an applicant is between age 62 and their normal retirement age; the application for benefits will be based on the applicant’s earnings record. If one half of an ex-spouse’s benefit is greater than the applicant’s benefit on their own record; the applicant can choose to take whichever is greater. If you wait until your normal retirement age and file for spousal benefits you can continue to accrue benefits and enhancements for delaying your own retirement up until your age 70.

An ex-spouse’s receipt of derivative benefits on the worker’s record does not reduce the worker’s benefits. It is even possible for more than one ex-spouse to collect on the worker’s derivative benefits. This could lead to as much as 500% of the original benefit being claimed by the five ex-spouses.

Justin A. Reckers CFP®, CDFA™, AIF®


Our firm does not provide legal or tax advice. Be sure to consult with your own tax and legal advisors before taking any action that would have tax consequences. The information provided herein is obtained from sources believed to be reliable; but no representation or warranty is made as to its accuracy or completeness.

Planning for Post Divorce College Funding and Taxes

2009 and 2010 bring a slew of changes to the structure of tax credits and deductions in the Federal Income Tax system. Today I would like to draw attention to the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The American Opportunity Credit expanded and renamed the Hope Credit for tax years 2009 and 2010. The expanded credit increases the total available credit to $2,500 per year for the first four years of post secondary education. This is an increase of $700 over the old Hope Credit. The Hope Credit was also only applicable to the first two years of school. Adding $700 per year and an additional two years to eligibility make the new credit worth up to an additional Read more

Life After Divorce: Beneficiary Designations

Have You Changed all Your Beneficiary Designations?

In January 2009; the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (Kennedy v. DuPont Plan Administrator) against a woman suing her late father’s pension plan for money her mother received, even thought the mother had forfeited her rights to the pension in their 1994 divorce. The Supreme Court determined the beneficiary designation form and the procedures set under the plan were sole determinants of benefit distribution.

Employers are required to pay benefits as stated in the original beneficiary designation form, in spite of a divorce decree.

It is important for all divorcing individuals to revisit their estate planning, including beneficiary designations, wills and trusts.  Changes must be made to retirement plans in accordance with the rules set forth by respective employers.  Otherwise, children and/or new spouses may not be eligible to receive benefits.

Remember the following points: Read more