Divorcing Massachusetts couples who possess retirement accounts face the task of dividing them between the two spouses. However, many retirement accounts require that you do not access them until you reach a certain age, or you will have to pay tax penalties or fees. To make sure dividing up your assets does not incur tax costs, you need to understand how you may access your accounts without penalty.

The Motley Fool provides some background on how couples split their retirement assets. There are different kinds of accounts individuals own, like savings accounts, CDs, pensions, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, and 403(b)s. Some assets, such as bank accounts, are easy to divide. Others, like 401(k)s, are not. Also, different rules govern how to access these accounts. What works for an IRA does not work for a 401(k).

Once a court implements a divorce decree that clearly describes how to split retirement accounts, you are ready to begin dividing your assets. Each account requires a certain method to dividing it so that you do not have to pay fees or taxes. The tax code allows for division of IRAs between spouses within a year of the divorce date without imposing taxes on the spouses for doing so.

However, some plans require a separate court order for division. Pensions, 401(k)s and 403(b)s are a few examples. To divide these assets, a divorcing couple needs a court to issue a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). These orders permit spouses to roll assets from 401(k)s and other pensions into a separate account that they own without a requirement to pay penalties.

The complex nature of dividing retirement assets may necessitate speaking to a professional attorney to understand your options under the law. Since the needs of divorcing couples will differ, do not read this article as legal advice for your situation. It is only intended for educational benefit.