Retirement plans often represent a substantial portion of a marital estate, and their division deserves particular care and consideration. In order to divide retirement plans or benefits in a divorce, couples will likely need to complete a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A QDRO’s format is determined by the plan it divides. Many federal, state, and local agencies will provide specific model QDROs on their respective websites.
An experienced family law attorney will be familiar with the QDRO best suited to your situation. These orders will control the division of both retirement accounts and benefits, which may be allotted as shared or separate-interest. Shared-interest benefits will be distributed to both the plan holder and alternate payee at the same time, generally following the plan holder's retirement. Separate interest benefits may be awarded independently of one another.
QDROs may even contain provisions covering the distribution of cost of living adjustments contained within a plan. To begin the submission process, a proposed order is sent to a plan administrator for review. This step ensures that, once approved by the court, the order can be effectuated quickly and without revision. Plan administrators are famously picky, and will likely demand strict compliance with the language and format of their institution’s model orders.
Hiring an experienced family law attorney will provide confidence that your QDRO meets all expectations and will pass pre-approval for submission to the court. Once finalized, a proposed order will be submitted for signature by a judge, likely during the same hearing in which you will present your final decree of divorce.