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Spousal Rights to Benefits

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Federal and California laws guarantee certain rights to the spouses of retirement plan participants. Marital community property laws apply to your Stanford Contributory Retirement Plan (SCRP) benefits.

These rights vary according to the specific circumstance:

  • Both you and your spouse are alive when plan benefits are paid.
  • You die before collecting plan benefits.
  • You and your spouse divorce.

Your spouse has the right to waive his/her spousal rights. However, certain restrictions and requirements apply when the spouse chooses to waive his/her rights.

If Both You and Your Spouse Are Alive When Benefits Are Paid

Federal law states that retirement benefits must be paid in the form of a 50 percent Joint and Survivor Annuity, also known as a Qualified Joint and Survivor Annuity (QJSA).

With your spouse’s written consent to waive his/her spousal right to your benefits, you may elect to receive plan benefits in a form other than a QJSA.

If You Die Before Collecting Benefits

Federal law requires that your surviving spouse receive a Qualified Pre-Retirement Survivor Annuity (QPSA) – with a value equal to at least 50 percent of your plan benefit.

With your spouse’s written consent to waive his/her spousal right to your benefits, you may elect to receive benefits in a form other than a QPSA. In that event, you may designate someone else to receive up to 100 percent of your plan benefits.

If your spouse does not consent to waive his/her spousal right to benefits:

  • He/she remains entitled to receive the 50 percent benefit, and
  • Your designated beneficiary or beneficiaries (other than your spouse) will receive the difference between 100 percent of the plan benefits and the amount owed to your spouse.

If no beneficiary has been named and you die without a surviving spouse, and before all benefits have been distributed, the benefits will be paid to your estate.

If You and Your Spouse Divorce

If you and your spouse divorce and the divorce orders require payment of some benefits to your ex-spouse, those orders affecting retirement plans must meet the federal definition of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).

If a QDRO is issued by a court:

  • You must contact the University HR Service Team to arrange for a review of the court order. QDROs may be subject to an administrative review and processing fee.
  • Stanford Benefits, as the plan administrator, is required to review the court order in any divorce proceeding and determine if the order is a QDRO. This review is required even if:
    • You and your spouse agree to divide your Stanford retirement benefits, or
    • Your spouse agrees to waive his/her rights to plan benefits.

You should contact the University HR Service Team at before a marital dissolution court order becomes final. For more information, look at Model QDRO SCRP or contact the Stanford University Pension Center at 877-249-6648 for Model QDRO SRAP information.

You and your spouse should consult legal counsel for rights under federal and state law.

Waivers of Spousal Rights

If you and your spouse elect to waive spousal rights to a Qualified Joint Survivor Annuity (QJSA) or Qualified Pre-Retirement Survivor Annuity (QPSA), your spouse’s consent to give up his/her rights to plan benefits must be recorded in writing and witnessed by a notary public as required on the distribution form.

Even if your spouse has signed a waiver giving up rights to benefits, he/she must sign a new waiver if you have named a non-spouse beneficiary and:

  • You change from one non-spouse beneficiary to another, or
  • You are under age 35 at the time the original waiver was signed. In that event, your spouse must sign another waiver when you reach age 35 or leave Stanford, whichever happens first. (This is federal law, not a Stanford rule.)

If You Divorce, Then Remarry

  • Your new spouse is entitled to a QJSA or QPSA, even if your ex-spouse signed a waiver.
  • Your new spouse’s consent will be required for any benefit payment form or beneficiary designation that affects his/her rights to a QJSA or QPSA.
  • If you are already receiving benefits in the form of a QJSA when you divorce and remarry, your prior spouse will still receive his/her benefits as defined by the QJSA when you die. Your new spouse will receive nothing.

NOTE: In all the circumstances described above, you may revoke any elections and waivers at any time before distribution of benefits begins.