A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (or QDRO, pronounced “qua-dro”), is a judicial order in the United States, entered as part of a property division in a divorce which divides a retirement plan or pension plan by recognizing joint marital ownership interests in the plan, specifically the former spouse’s interest in that spouse’s share of the asset.
QDROs apply only to employee benefit or pension plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the American federal law governing private sector pensions. Domestic Relations Orders or DRO’s divide military retirement pay and Federal civil service retirement plans. A QDRO or DRO may provide for marital or community property division between the plan participant (the employee or former employee) and the alternate payee (the spouse of the employee or former employee). IRA’s, ROTH IRA’s and SEP IRA’s are not subject to ERISA and therefore are not divided typically with a QDRO but rather paperwork from the issuing company.
QDROs and DROs must first be issued by a State-level domestic relations court. The QDRO or DRO is a separate document in addition to your divorce decree. It must be signed by both parties in the divorce as well as their respective attorney’s and the court. Once it is signed by all parties, the QDRO or DRO then needs to be sent to the company’s plan administrator. It must meet the standards of the plan to which it applies. Each company or issuing entity will have their own wording for QDROs and DROs.
Generally, you must have a separate QDRO or DRO for each plan. Each retirement plan is governed by different rules depending on the plan type (i.e. 401(k), Pension Plan, 403(b)). Each QDRO or DRO must be tailored to the requirements of each plan.
The timeline for receiving your awarded funds from a QDRO or DRO is approximately 90 days. We highly encourage you to request the QDRO/DRO process begin as soon as you have completed the mediation process or a decision on the estate has been determined. It is common for a QDRO/DRO to be sent for pre-approval. This is where he QDRO/DRO is completed but not signed, instead it completed with the plan participants information and the divorce decision as far as division is sent to the administrator for pre-approval. This process takes approximately 30 days. Once pre-approval is completed, you know your QDRO/DRO will be approved. We then encourage you to have the QDRO/DRO submitted in conjunction with your divorce decree. This tends to speed up the process and prevents the frustrating delays we have seen multiple times.
If you are in the midst of or finishing up divorce negotiations, we encourage you to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss your situation. We can potentially help you avoid costly delays and frustrations in the QDRO process.