3 things to know about Qualified Domestic Relations Orders

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2023 | Divorce

A qualified domestic relations order is a significant legal tool often used in divorce proceedings, particularly when dividing retirement benefits. These come into the picture when each party doesn’t have their own retirement account that’s equitable with their soon-to-be ex’s.

Understanding the nuances and requirements of a QDRO is crucial for anyone going through a divorce, as it can have substantial implications for both parties’ financial futures. 

Only for qualified plans

QDROs are designed explicitly for dividing qualified retirement plans. These include 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and pension plans. They don’t apply to IRAs or other non-qualified retirement plans. The QDRO allows the retirement benefits to be split between the plan holder and their former spouse, recognizing the latter’s right to a portion of the retirement assets accrued during the marriage.

Must be specific

A QDRO must be meticulously detailed and specific in its instructions. It should clearly outline how the retirement benefits are to be divided. This includes specifying the amount or percentage of the participant’s benefits to be paid to the alternate payee, typically the former spouse. The order should also detail how payments will be made, whether as a lump sum, monthly payments or other forms. 

Requires approval by court and administrator

The court must issue the order as part of the divorce decree or as a separate order. Then, the plan administrator must review the QDRO to ensure it complies with the plan’s rules and the relevant laws. The administrator’s approval is not just a formality; they must confirm that the QDRO meets specific legal requirements and the plan’s criteria. Only after both these approvals are obtained does the QDRO become valid and enforceable.

The QDRO is only one component of property division in a divorce. Weighing how it plays into the overall agreement is critical.