Pensions, as well as other retirement plans, are often one of the assets up for division in a divorce. The court will equitably divide the marital portion of a pension plan after considering all the relevant factors in equitable distribution. The marital portion of a plan would be the portion that accrued from the date of marriage through the date of separation. In some cases, the entire pension will be marital depending on the timing of the marriage alongside the start date of the pension plan. A qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO for short, is a document used to effectuate division of certain retirement benefits.

A QDRO can facilitate a tax-free transfer of retirement benefits from one party to their new or soon-to-be ex-spouse. The receiving spouse would then be taxed as they withdraw the money as the tax laws provide. The exact nuances of how the plan/benefit is split and what options are available will vary based on the type of plan. It is always advisable to review the procedures for the specific plan you may need distributed to understand what their rules and policies are when it comes to splitting a participant’s benefits via QDRO in the context of a divorce. You will also benefit from having an experienced family law attorney review the terms of the QDRO before you sign off on it and submit it to the Plan Administrator for implementation. Finally, most plans have very specific requirements as far as how the language of the QDRO is to be worded in order for it to be accepted and processed. At a minimum, a QDRO should identify the parties, the plan at issue, and the amount going to the receiving party either as a lump sum or a percentage of the total benefit. It is wise to enlist the services of an expert that routinely drafts QDROs to ensure the language is correct and all requirements are met.   By April M. Townsend