After you spend years building up your retirement accounts, you expect to retire comfortably relatively young. But if you and your spouse get a divorce before you retire, you risk losing that cushion.

When you go through a divorce, any assets that you and your spouse gained during marriage are up for division. This includes the retirement accounts you spent years building. Here are a few things to keep in mind about splitting retirement accounts in divorce.

Try to keep as much as possible

Your retirement took a long time to build. Losing it now would mean you have to work even longer to rebuild it. But if you and your spouse have an amicable divorce, you may be able to negotiate to keep most or all of your retirement. If you each have saved about equal amounts in your individual accounts, your spouse may be willing to leave your accounts untouched.

Or if your spouse has a significantly less amount of retirement saved, you can offer to forgo other assets like the house or investment accounts to keep your retirement intact.

Use a QDRO to avoid extra taxes and fees

If you do have to split your retirement, make sure to use proper court documents to avoid any extra charges. If you split a defined contribution plan like a 401 (k), you need a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) from a judge. This document lets your plan administrator take money out of your account without you paying taxes. A QDRO also lets you roll over the funds back into a retirement account without any penalties or taxes.

Without using proper court documents, a plan administrator may charge you extra fees for early distribution. The IRS will also charge taxes if you take funds out early without a QDRO.

Protecting your future

When you divorce, you don’t want to lose your retirement. Since it is part of marital property, you can risk losing a significant portion to your spouse. But there are steps you can take to save as much of your retirement as possible. Speak with an attorney to figure out the best plan for saving your retirement accounts.

After years of saving, your retirement accounts are important to you. Don’t let divorce destroy your financial future.