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‘He’s an egomaniac’: My husband said he’ll flush his $1.5 million IRA ‘down the toilet’ rather than split it with me in our divorce. What can I do?

In Business
June 04, 2024
“He can be very loud and scary at times, and this seems to be his version of Custer’s Last Stand.”

“He can be very loud and scary at times, and this seems to be his version of Custer’s Last Stand.” – Getty Images

Dear Quentin,

I’m going through a divorce, which I would not describe as amicable. My husband said he “will fight me every step of the way to not give me one red cent” of his retirement account. Those are his words. I knew divorce is stressful, but I was never prepared for this kind of acrimony, although it should not have surprised me.

He said he spent his life adding to this account, and said he would rather withdraw the money and flush it down the toilet than give me any. His IRA is worth $1.5 million, and we have been married for 20 years. I took time off to raise our child, and I have always contributed to our mortgage and other expenses.

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He’s an egomaniac, and never admits to being wrong, and never does what he says he’s going to do. If he says he’ll be home at 5 p.m. and I have dinner ready, he walks in the door at 9 p.m., refusing to ever acknowledge that he was going to be home in time for dinner. If he says he’ll take our son to his baseball game, I know I will need to make sure I’m on standby.

If I acquiesced to him on vacation and we ended up taking a wrong turn, he would blame Google Maps, or blame me for distracting him. He never accepts responsibility. He can be very loud and scary at times, and this seems to be his version of Custer’s Last Stand. He won’t let it go, and he has promised to put me through hell. I don’t underestimate him.

The Wife

Related: ‘Is he trying to bamboozle me?’ My husband wants a divorce after 20 years. He offered his $275,000 401(k) in exchange for our $250,000 house.

“Your husband is a gaslighter – an overused, but painfully appropriate term — and a bully.”

“Your husband is a gaslighter – an overused, but painfully appropriate term — and a bully.” – MarketWatch illustration

Dear Wife,

If he fulfills this promise, it sounds like it will be the first time in your marriage. Only, it won’t be through his want of trying. The law is very clear on retirement accounts and divorce. He can huff and puff, but if you hire a good divorce attorney, his retirement account will remain.

Your husband is a gaslighter – an overused, but painfully appropriate term — and a bully. If you say the weather is sunny, and it’s 80 degrees out without a cloud in the sky, he will say it’s raining. He can’t get you to sign over his IRA, and he can’t recklessly dispose of assets.

California is a community-property state and any assets acquired during the marriage are regarded as marital property. That includes the contributions and appreciation of his IRA over the last 20 years, which were probably his peak earning years.

“In California, all types of retirement benefits are considered community property, which requires the benefits to be divided upon a dissolution of marriage,” according to the Galen Gentry Law Group, in Woodland Hills, Calif. Those assets are generally divided 50/50.

Do not allow yourself to be pushed around. Treat this as your last stand — not his. Assuming he began a retirement account before your marriage, you are entitled to 50% of the contributions and credits you accrued or purchased during the marriage.

Your husband is out of luck

Your husband is out of luck and out of gas. “These statements are true no matter what type of retirement accounts you have including 401ks, IRAs, Roth IRAs, private pensions, public pensions like CalPERS and military pensions,” the law firm adds.

Qualified domestic relations orders (QDRO) allow a spouse to receive a portion of their ex-spouse’s retirement plan. So if $1 million of your husband’s IRA was acquired during your marriage, you will be entitled to $500,000 of that.

Divorce attorneys should advise their clients that they’re prohibited from “transferring, encumbering, hypothecating, concealing, or in any way disposing” of any community or separate property without permission of the court.

That’s according to Bickford, Blado & Bodros, a law firm in San Diego. “Despite the blanket prohibition on the sale of any property during divorce, a spouse may petition the court for permission to liquidate assets if one of the exceptions applies,” it adds.

Trying to hide or dispose of assets could backfire spectacularly on your husband. Engage a team of friends, trusted family members, a smart divorce attorney and a therapist, if you have to. The next few months will be crucial to your long-term financial well-being.

More columns from Quentin Fottrell:

‘He’s planning to bleed me dry’: My husband turned into a monster after we married. I own a $1.3 million home. How do I save my finances?

My wife received a $1 million payout from her employer when she retired. Am I entitled to 50% of that if we divorce?

‘He always managed to play golf’: My husband of 14 years never worked and now we’re divorcing. He wants half of my $1 million home. What can I do?

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