Dividing Employee Benefits in Divorce

By Richard M. Novitch and Stephen N. Lander1

Incident to many (if not most) divorces in Massachusetts is the identification and equitable division of employee benefits: pensions, employer-provided life insurance, medical insurance, deferred compensation and defined benefit plans, and stock options, among others. While Massachusetts state law may dictate whether, and to what extent the court can consider such “assets,” it is principally federal law that governs how they are divided. The practitioner would do well to review and familiarize himself with both statutory schemes – including the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), and the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance Act (FEGLIA) – for therein lay several potential traps for the unwary.

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