Divorce proceedings are stressful and emotional for everyone involved. In the midst of chaos, it can be difficult to put together a comprehensive list of assets. One of the largest assets in a marriage that is often overlooked is a retirement plan. While retirement may be years down the road for many couples seeking a divorce, the division of that retirement plan must be addressed and approved during the proceedings. Failing to address the issue can lead to additional cost and a great deal of uncertainty down the road.
Retirement plan distributions ordered in divorce proceedings are governed by a document called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (or “QDRO”). A QDRO is a court order or judgment for a retirement plan to pay benefits to the dependent of a participant.
A QDRO is different from a “Domestic Relations Order” from the court as it must be “qualified.” To be “qualified” means that the order must be approved by the retirement plan in order to be valid. During divorce proceedings, the QDRO is sent to the retirement plan for approval.
Why is a QDRO Important?
Obtaining a QDRO is an important consideration in divorce proceedings as it governs the division of a large martial asset and is the only way to receive a pay-out benefit from a retirement fund. A retirement benefit could be granted by a judge and listed in the divorce decree, but a party is not entitled to a pay out of any benefits from a retirement fund unless a QDRO was sought and issued. The retirement plan then uses the QDRO as the legal basis for making pay-outs to the beneficiaries listed in the Order.
Requirements for a QDRO
There are thousands of retirement plans in the U.S., each with specific requirements as to what information must be included in a QDRO. The IRS requires that a QDRO contain the following information:
• the participant and each alternate payee’s name and last known mailing address; and
• the amount or percentage of the participant’s benefits to be paid to each alternate payee.
While this is a bare minimum, it is also a good idea to include the name of each plan governed by the Order as well as the total time period or number of payments to which the Order applies.
Keep in mind that every retirement plan will have different requirements and may want additional information added to the QDRO. This is why it is important to submit the Order to the retirement plan as soon as possible during divorce proceedings and to make any revisions necessary to obtain approval prior to finalization of the divorce.
If a QDRO is not set up correctly, it may not be enforceable after a divorce. This is where a California divorce attorney with experience in obtaining QDROs is invaluable. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are highly knowledgeable and experienced with negotiating and obtaining QDROs. Call (415) 293-8314 to find out how we can help.