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What responsibilities does HR have when an employee is getting divorced?

There are several matters that HR should address on learning of an impending or finalized divorce. The main consideration is eligibility and entitlement to both retirement and welfare plans.

For retirement plans, the employer should inquire if a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) has been completed to determine how to properly administer and divide the retirement assets. For more information regarding QDROs, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) provides helpful guidance.

Under an employer's group health plans, divorce is considered a COBRA qualifying event; therefore, when a spouse is removed from health care coverage due to a divorce or even in preparation for a divorce (at open enrollment), COBRA needs to be offered to the divorcing spouse at the time of the divorce. This notice should be provided directly to the qualified beneficiary, so it may be necessary to obtain updated contact information for the ex-spouse (in the likely event he or she has a new residence or other living arrangements).

The employee may decide to make changes to other benefits plans, such as the beneficiary on his or her life insurance and contributions to flexible spending accounts for medical or dependent care.

The employer may want to provide the employee with new tax forms to make any adjustments to his or her tax withholdings or to change the name, if applicable. If the employee has a name change due to the divorce, then the employer may request to see or obtain a copy of a new Social Security card to update its HR or payroll systems. A name change does not require new Form I-9 documentation, but the employer should fill in the new name in Section 3 of the employee's current Form I-9. See Do I need to update or reverify Form I-9 when an employee has a name change? and What do I need to do when an employee has a name change?

In addition, the employee may wish to update his or her emergency contact information and direct deposit authorization.

Finally, if the employer has an employee assistance program, HR can remind the employee of this benefit for the employee or any other family member who may need someone to talk to during the transition period.


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