What is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order?
A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a court order that allows the pension plan to pay benefits to someone other than the individual participating in the plan. Without the QDRO, the plan cannot legally make payments to a former spouse.
Why do I need a QDRO?
Without a QDRO, the plan may not be aware of a divorce or a former spouse’s right to any of the plan benefits. The plan might pay all benefits to the individual actually participating in the Plan, not the former spouse, even if there is already a marital settlement agreement (called an MSA) or judgment of dissolution, because they generally do not meet the requirements of a QDRO. If the individual participating in the plan dies after the divorce but without a QDRO, it is possible that the former spouse will receive no money from the plan. The QDRO can also prevent later lawsuits.
Couldn't we agree on the amount in the plan at the date of divorce and make an equalizing distribution?
This is possible but very risky, particularly if the plan is a defined benefit plan. In a defined benefit plan, the payment at retirement is based upon many unknown factors, such as years of service, final average compensation and the percentage of compensation in the benefit formula, which the plan can change in the future. A calculation of the future benefit must rest upon assumptions which may or may not prove accurate.
What is a Joinder?
A Joinder is a legal document served on the Plan before the QDRO is prepared which notifies the plan that a former spouse is claiming a right to some of the pension benefits. Once the plan is notified, it generally will NOT make any distributions to anyone until it receives the QDRO. Some plans require a Joinder before they will implement the QDRO.
Why do I need a QDRO prepared by a professional? The retirement plan sent me a Model QDRO?
The model is often a good starting point. However, it does not necessarily address all the issues contemplated in the Marital Settlement Agreement or Final Judgment of Dissolution.
In addition the Model QDRO typically provides a choice of several alternative paragraphs, usually written in “legalese” making the options difficult to understand or confusing. Because the pension often represents a significant asset, it is important to clearly understand the choice you are making.
QDRO Pros, Inc. is familiar with QDRO issues, understands the marital settlement agreement or dissolution decree and the applicable options. We can also avoid future litigation by raising unaddressed issues and obtaining resolution before the Plan makes payment.
Why should QDROs be pre-approved by the Plan Administrator before filing with the Court?
An order is not designated as a QDRO until the Plan Administrator approves, even if it is already signed by the judge. Often, this means that in addition to the general legal requirements, the Plan will require the QDRO to include specific language or provisions. If the Plan rejects an order already signed by the court, you will have to file another order with the court and obtain the judge’s signature to amend the first one.
QDRO Pros, Inc. obtains pre-approval, whenever possible, to avoid multiple court orders and delay. In addition, some courts may require a letter of approval from the Plan before signing the Order. As experts in QDRO law we can negotiate changes with the Plan Administrator from Model language to accurately incorporate your dissolution agreement into the QDRO.
Should my Family Law Attorney review the QDRO prepared by QDRO Pros, Inc?
As reflected in our Engagement Agreement, QDRO Pros, Inc. does not represent you or your former spouse. We purposely remain neutral to enable us to raise issues related to the division of retirement plans which we believe need to be addressed. Therefore, if you have any questions about anything in the QDRO we highly recommend that you have your Family Law Attorney review it. Your signature on the QDRO should be done voluntarily and with complete understanding of the contents of the QDRO. Please be aware, that if you choose to have your Family Law Attorney review the QDRO, there will most likely be additional fees generated by your Family Law Attorney.
What if my Former Spouse and the Plan Administrator refuse to furnish information about the Plan I need?
If you do not have any information regarding your Former Spouse’s retirement plan, it is possible that your Family Law Attorney has already obtained this information during the course of the dissolution. If your Family Law Attorney does not have this information and the Plan Administrator and your Former Spouse refuse to give you this information, you can file a “Joinder”, which “joins” the retirement plan in your dissolution and puts them on notice that there is an adverse interest in the plan. You can then serve the retirement plan with a subpeona requiring that they produce such information. Your Family Law Attorney can file this paperwork or QDRO Pros, Inc. can do it for an additional fee.
Does my Former Spouse have to sign the QDRO?
The QDRO is written as a “stipulation” which means “agreement” between you and your former spouse. Therefore, you must both sign it, in addition to the judge’s signature.
If your former spouse refuses to sign, he or she is most likely violating the order entered upon your divorce, which often states that a QDRO must be prepared. It sometimes even goes as far as requiring QDRO Pros to prepare the QDRO. By refusing, he or she could be held in contempt. However, you may find it necessary to have your Family Law Attorney file papers with the court asking the Court to sign in place of your Former Spouse or ordering your Former Spouse to sign.
What if I do not understand the questions on the QDRO Pros, Inc. forms?
QDRO Pros, Inc. provides an extensive “HELP” function on our website, www.qdropros.com. While you are completing the forms, you can double click on the question and you will be provided with guidance and definitions to assist your answering these questions. Also, a Glossary is provided in this Website.