One of the toughest realities to prepare for after a divorce—and especially after a difficult one—is the division of financial assets. Wealth accumulated throughout a life’s hard work could be severely and negatively impacted in a matter of months, creating problems that could continue for years if the proper details are not attended to during the divorce proceedings. That is why today we will be discussing one of the most important acronyms to pay attention to during a divorce settlement: QDRO.

What Is a QDRO?

A qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is a court order, judgment, or decree that allows a qualified retirement plan, such as a 401(k), 403(b), or pension, to pay benefits to the former spouse (or other dependent individual) in addition to the individual who controls and contributes to the plan. Without a QDRO, the alternate payee (the person assigned to share these types of benefits) is not entitled to receive any monies the plan will pay out. A QDRO agreement does not extend to include outside workplace retirement accounts such as savings/checking accounts, houses, etc.

Steps to Acquire a QDRO

Approval of a QDRO, which is finalized when the divorce itself is finalized, is generally granted before the divorce judgment is handed down. Any competent divorce attorney will know the steps needed to obtain a QDRO during the negotiation phase of a divorce.

But let’s say that a QDRO was not drafted for approval by your spouse, the retirement plan itself, or the judge during the proceedings for your divorce. This does not mean that you are out of luck. There is still a chance that you can obtain a QDRO and receive a fair portion of your now-ex-spouse’s retirement account. Here is what you need to do in order to make that happen:

  1. Sit down with an attorney who specializes in QDROs. Generally speaking, negotiating a QDRO during the divorce proceedings makes the division of assets easier. Once that time has passed, however, meeting with a lawyer to discuss how to obtain a QDRO will still ensure that you have the best chance to receive a post-decree settlement. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers is one resource you could consider using to locate an attorney who specializes in family law which includes QDROs. It is important to lay out a clear legal plan before the proceedings.
  2. Send the resulting QDRO draft to the retirement/pension plan administrator. This is the most important step in the QDRO process. If the retirement/pension plan rejects your draft, you’ve wasted valuable time, which could prove costly. Oftentimes, the plan will return a copy of the draft with suggestions for changes based on the plan’s own rules and regulations. Consulting with an attorney with expertise in the QDRO process might enable you to circumvent some of these issues.
  3. Get the needed signatures from a judge and all affected parties. Once the retirement/pension plan has given its approval, it is important to obtain signatures from a divorce judge and all interested parties. The sooner this step is completed, the closer you will be to receiving your share of the benefits.
  4. Send a copy to the pension/retirement plan. Send the pension/retirement plan administrator a copy of the QDRO for approval. This will ensure that the benefits are paid out.

The steps listed above might take only a few months to complete, if everything happens quickly. Any delay, however, will mean more time before you receive the benefits, assuming all is in order. If your former spouse remarries or dies, it will become almost impossible to get any portion of the retirement account from the employer.

Divorce is one of the most difficult events a person may have to go through in life, and the aftermath of a divorce can be harder to handle if the marital assets were not divided well. A QDRO could be one of the most important financial documents obtained during this emotionally charged period of time. Seeking advice from a team of legal and financial experts will do wonders for your financial well-being and give you peace of mind.