Using a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) To Protect Your Rights

In most middle class divorces, very often the most valuable asset acquired during the marriage is the retirement benefits of one or both parties. These benefits must be divided as part of the divorce, which means you need to make informed financial decisions regarding how much of the benefits you will receive, how you will receive them, and when and under what circumstances you will receive them. If you're planning to get a separation or divorce and your spouse has an employer-sponsored retirement plan such as a 401(k) or pension plan, you're legally entitled to part of the balance. But how do you protect your share? What's to stop your spouse's employer from paying out the benefits to your spouse or ex-spouse, leaving you with little or nothing? The answer is: a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO, pronounced "quad row"). A QDRO is a court order, judgment, or decree related to child support, alimony, or property rights, and it that your spouse's pension plan how and when to pay you your share of plan benefits. A QDRO is not considered Qualified unless it's been approved by the retirement plan's Plan Administrator and the court. Retirement plans often have standard QDRO forms that your lawyer can use to draft the wording of the QDRO. Sometimes these are adequate, but if your share of your spouse's retirement account is substantial, you should consider using an attorney who specializes in QDROs to ensure that all of the related issues in your marital settlement agreement are incorporated into the QDRO and that your rights are fully protected in a way that a generic QDRO form can't provide. If your attorney is not experienced in QDROs it will take him or her longer to do the research and paperwork, which will cost you more in legal fees. There's also the chance that he or she could miss something important that could end up costing you money. For more information on QDROs in New York, or on New York divorces, please contact me or visit my website at

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