A (QDRO) qualified domestic relations order is a special court order that grants a person a right to a portion of the retirement benefits his or her former spouse has earned through participation in an employer-sponsored retirement plan. QDROs are typically prepared during divorce proceedings, though they can be filed years after divorce. In a QDRO, the person who earned the benefit is called the “participant” and the person who is designated to receive a share of that benefit is called the “alternate payee.” QDROs can award benefits to the alternate payee while the participant is alive, as well as survivor benefits if the participant dies. Note that there is an important distinction between a domestic relations order and a qualified domestic relations order. Any family law court can issue a domestic relations order, but a domestic relations order becomes qualified only once it is accepted by the plan. Federal law states that a retirement benefit can only be divided between former spouses if there is a QDRO. This means that a divorce decree issued by a state court may not be enough, even if the divorce decree clearly states that the retirement benefit should be divided. While it is sometimes possible that the divorce decree itself will meet the requirements for it to be treated as a QDRO, in many circumstances a retirement plan will require a QDRO that is a separate document from the divorce decree. This is why it’s important to talk to attorneys who are experienced in such complicated divorce matters. Contact your QDRO experts at the Justice Legal Group.