Divorce and Your Benefits

Death Benefits

Divorce and Your Benefits

Ordinary Death Benefit

The Retirement and Social Security Law (RSSL) provides for an ordinary death benefit if a member dies while in active service (before retiring). It is payable to the member’s last designated beneficiary(ies). To be effective, the member must properly execute and file the appropriate beneficiary designation with NYSLRS.

A DRO may direct a member to designate the ex-spouse to receive a portion of the ordinary death benefit. The ex-spouse’s portion is generally calculated with reference to the Majauskas formula but may vary based on the parties’ agreement.

The DRO should be filed with NYSLRS as soon as possible after the DRO is entered as an official court document. Filing the DRO promptly ensures that the ex-spouse will receive a portion of the ordinary death benefit even if the member does not appropriately designate them.


Accidental Death Benefit

The beneficiaries of an accidental death benefit are designated by law (RSSL, Sections 61, 361, 509 and 607). NYSLRS has no discretion to pay the ex-spouse. Only the beneficiaries designated by law may receive this benefit, even if there is a filed DRO.


ERS Post-Retirement Death Benefit

Members of many Employees’ Retirement System (ERS) plans are covered by a post-retirement death benefit. The benefit is payable to the beneficiary(ies) designated by the member. For more information, see the post-retirement death benefit section of the Retiree Death Benefits page.

If a member is required to provide an ex-spouse with a portion of the post-retirement death benefit, it must be explicitly stated in the DRO.


Beneficiary Designations

A member’s designation of a spouse as beneficiary of certain benefits is revoked following a divorce, annulment, or judicial separation, once NYSLRS receives written notice (Estate, Powers and Trusts Law -EPTL § 5-1.4). The designation is revoked regardless of when the final decree of divorce, annulment or judicial separation was signed, unless a Domestic Relations Order (DRO) specifies otherwise.

Designations affected are:

  • Pre-retirement ordinary death benefit;
  • Post-retirement death benefit;
  • Cash Refund Initial Value pension payment option (Tier 1);
  • Cash Refund Contributions pension payment option (Tiers 1 and 2);
  • Five and Ten Year Certain pension payment options; and
  • Other alternative pension payment options with beneficiaries that can be changed.

If a member wishes to keep an ex-spouse as beneficiary, the member must re-designate them after the date of the divorce, annulment, or judicial separation, or include the requirement in the DRO.  

If a member remarries their ex-spouse, the designation of the ex-spouse as beneficiary is reinstated, provided the member has not made another designation during the time the marriage was dissolved.

EPTL § 5-1.4 does not apply to designations that are irrevocable by law, such as the beneficiary designation of a joint allowance option or designations that are required under a DRO on file with NYSLRS. Therefore, the designation of a spouse as beneficiary of a joint allowance option will not be invalidated by a subsequent divorce, annulment, or judicial separation.


Rev. 2/23