A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) is a court order, signed by the parties and the judge, laying out the conditions for splitting a retirement account. When completed and entered by the court, the QDRO is sent to the Plan Administrator, who can then split the account and do what is required with the money.
The QDRO(s) are often entered at the end of the divorce on the same day the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage is entered. This is understandable because it is not until the very end of a case that we know how the retirement will be allocated. For example, the division may not be an even 50/50 split.
The completion of QDROs may not be the first item on your list. However, when it becomes clear you are going to be divorced, one important task you can accomplish at the beginning of your case is contacting someone at your benefits office at work, or your retirement plan provider, and getting the information about the procedures that need to be done to divide retirement accounts.
Plan Administrators have specific language, rules, and usually model templates for QDROs that can be obtained early in the case. The lawyers can prepare them relatively early and then fill in the final percentages or lump-sum numbers at the end of the case to ensure the QDROs are complete and signed by the judge on the day you get divorced.
Be sure to also obtain a Summary Description of the Plan so you have an understanding of what options may be available to you when you receive the retirement funds. For instance, you may be entitled to a percentage or lump-sum depending . You will want to decide what is right for you and make sure your money is invested properly.