How Retirements Can Be Used in Child Support Cases

What we are about to share is a little known and little used tool to help people enforce child support obligations. Most attorneys aren’t even aware of the benefits of retirement accounts when it comes to child support cases. Retirement plans are considered marital assets, but even well seasoned attorneys are unaware that retirement plans can be tapped into to pay child support or child support arrearages. Although your attorney may have good intentions, and be well versed in the laws of his or her own state, they may not be as familiar with the administration of retirement plans nor have the experience of tapping into retirement plans using QDROs.

Many custodial parents, typically the mother, are distressed with not receiving the child support promised in their divorce judgment. Typically, but not always, it is the wife or mother as the custodial parent, burdened with the costs and energy of fighting for payment of child support. Many are faced with the prospects of not receiving any payments owed for years or not at all, yet ordered by the court, but ignored by the non-custodial parent. There is hope in an effective, but often overlooked, tool to receive child support and back child support, referred to as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. A Qualified Domestic Relations order is a court order instructing a retirement plan to make certain payments to a spouse, former spouse, or dependent, often referred to as an “Alternate Payee”. In effect, the QDRO is a set of instructions from the court to the retirement plan. A good many retirement plans in divorce are divided by a QDRO because retirement plans are considered marital assets, similar to savings account or any other material asset. The wife typically receives one-half of the retirement account and the husband keeps his one-half in the retirement plan. The QDRO is also a court order which means that it has to be signed by a judge, but if you have a judgment of divorce or separate judgment outlining what is, or was, to be paid, you’re well on your way to getting the child support you deserve. The process of obtaining current or back child support from a retirement plan is quite simple, using the following steps:

  • A court order or judgment must exist setting out the amount that should have been paid.
  • Obtain a QDRO that allows for the amount of the back support to be paid from the retirement account.
  • Have the language of the QDRO pre-approved by the plan administrator of the retirement plan if possible, before submitting the QDRO to the court.
  • Obtain the judge’s signature or court stamp, and consider the interest on the amount owed, typically left up to the court.
  • And finally submit the court signed QDRO to the retirement plan.

Using a QDRO to enforce a child support obligation is often an overlooked and underutilized tool to collect back child support. To learn more about how a QDRO can help you collect child support contact our child support experts by emailing us at or call us at 505-880-8737.