An ex-wife may collect a pension before or after the spouse employee retires and also after his death, notes the Pension Rights Center. However, rules governing how a pension is divided and distributed in divorce cases differ by state and retirement system.
Most states deem a pension to be a joint asset if it was earned during marriage. However, due to the varying state and local laws related to the division of assets during divorce proceedings, courts have the discretion to decide how pension assets are divided and to what extent survivors benefits are payable, if at all. If the court divides the pension benefit, it generally does so at the same time that all marital assets are divided, explains the Pension Rights Center.