A person who is getting divorced at a relatively young age has a long time to recover financially. For older people, the time frame is not as long, especially if they plan to retire someday.

In many divorce cases, the spouses’ retirement accounts are among the most valuable assets they possess. With people in the U.S. living longer than ever, retirement can be expensive, and most people must begin saving decades in advance.

Married people usually make retirement preparations together, expecting to spend their golden years as a couple. Of course, plans do not always work out they way we expect. So-called “gray divorce,” or divorce among couples who were married 20, 30 or 40 years, is increasingly common.

Among other things, this could affect how much money each former spouse will be left with for their individual retirements. This will likely be one of the things on the minds of each spouse as they try to negotiate a property division settlement.

In New York State, retirement accounts are considered to be marital property. This means they are subject to division between the spouses, even if only one spouse contributed money to the account.

Actually dividing one of these financial tools can be complicated, because many of them are subject to federal procedural rules. Things like 401(k)s, employer defined pension plans and profit-sharing plans require a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO. A QDRO instructs the account’s administrators to pay benefits to the beneficiary’s former spouse after a divorced. Otherwise, the terms of a property settlement regarding splitting up a retirement account will not be honored.

Your dreams of retirement may change because of divorce, but they need not be ruined, with the proper legal advice and advocacy.