In a gray divorce, ‘doing it yourself’ is a dangerous idea

This article looks at the risk of a do-it-yourself grey divorce, especially when it comes to retirement assets.

A do-it-yourself attitude is great for those who want to paint the bedroom or learn how to fix a jammed door. However, when it comes to divorce, it is best to leave that DIY attitude at home. That's especially the case for gray divorces, whereby one or both spouses are over the age of 50 and likely looking to retire soon. As Time reports, the number of gray divorces has more than doubled in the last two decades. When it comes to retirement planning, going into a gray divorce without professional legal help could be a recipe for financial disaster. Below is a look at why an attorney is so important for protecting retirement assets during a gray divorce.

Avoiding taxes and penalties

One of the most important documents for those looking to split retirement assets, especially private pensions and 401(k)s, is called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A QDRO allows for the early withdrawal of funds from certain retirement accounts without incurring taxes or early withdrawal fees (as would typically be the case when such funds are transferred prior to retirement).

As Reuters points out, taxes for withdrawing from a 401(k) without a QDRO can be nearly 40 percent on top of a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty. That can lead to a massive financial loss, but one that can be almost entirely avoided by having an attorney draft a QDRO.

Handling other retirement assets

401(k)s and pensions aren't the only retirement assets that require special paperwork in order to be divided without incurring large fees. Military benefits, IRAs, and public pensions can also typically be split between spouses, but these will require different forms to be filled out. Again, an attorney can ensure that the right paperwork is completed for these assets.

Also, an attorney can provide invaluable advice on how to divide other major assets, such as real estate or a family business. For those assets, a valuation will likely have to be completed, which an attorney can assist with. Those who are going through a DIY divorce often don't have the legal and technical expertise that is needed to properly divide these major assets properly. An attorney can also help update estate planning documents to ensure that one's assets aren't inadvertently promised to an ex-spouse.

Getting legal help

The decisions made during a divorce will have an impact on one's life and retirement for years to come. In many cases, any mistakes made during initial divorce negotiations cannot be undone later on. That's why those going through a divorce, especially if they are planning on retiring soon, should contact a family law attorney. An attorney can help clients avoid making the mistakes that are more likely to happen for those going through a divorce on their own .