Am I Entitled to a Share of My Ex Spouse's Stock Options?

Generally, all types of assets acquired during your marriage are marital property and may be divided by divorce court.*

For many years in order to keep their employees, companies offered not only a salary but frequently a bonus and a pension plan. During the economic good times before 2008, stock options have even more popular as a means of additional compensation to employees.

Your spouse may receive company stock or stock options as a form of additional pay. You need to be sure to verify whether your spouse in fact owns company stock or stock options. As part of the "discovery" process in an Illinois divorce, written questions called "interrogatories" (and records) can be asked of your spouse requesting ownership information of stock or stock options.

Since the "discovery" rules provide that you may serve a subpoena for records upon your spouse's employer, you should seriously consider this option. A subpoena for records which includes a request for stock and stock option information and comes directly from the employer. It also allows you to confirm the stock and stock ownership are what your spouse says they are.

The difference between a share of stock in the company your spouse works for versus the stock option is that a share of stock has a value which may increase or decrease with the value of the company. On the other hand, a stock option is the right for your spouse to buy the employer's stock at a certain price but only during a certain period of time.

Stock options may be vested, nonvested, or vested but not yet accrued. A vested option means that your spouse has the right to buy a set number of shares at a certain price called the "strike price." The strike price would ordinarily be below the market price per share.

Your spouse as employee owns the shares and may sell the shares or hold onto them. A vested but not accrued option gives your spouse the right to buy a certain number of shares at the strike price on and after some future date. The spouse's right to buy the shares continues even if your spouse is no longer employed by the employer at the time the option can be exercised.

Stock options many times can be valued like any other benefit received by an employee. They cannot be valued, the divorce court can provide you the right to direct your spouse in the future following the divorce to exercise those stock options you have been given as a spouse and for you to receive the benefit again in the value of the stock.

If you are in need of a stock ownership legal assistance, contact the Illinois divorce attorneys at the Law Office of Martoccio & Martoccio. Call 630-920-8855 or visit our office in Hinsdale at 15 North Lincoln Street.

*Assets acquired during the marriage are marital assets with the exception of those that were inherited or given as gifts to the spouse who has them.

See "What are Stock Options" by Laura W. Morgan.

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