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Frequently Asked Questions

Learn More About QDROs and Retirement Benefits

Q. What is a QDRO?

A. QDRO stands for Qualified Domestic Relations Order. It is a court order that allows a plan administrator to pay a portion or 100% of a retirement benefit to someone other than the individual participant in the plan. Without a QDRO, the plan administrator may not recognize the right of an alternate payee to receive a portion of the participant’s benefits.

Q. Who can receive benefits under a QDRO?

A. A QDRO transfers benefits to an alternate payee, which can only be a spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent of the plan participant, pursuant to the state domestic relations laws.

Q. The marital settlement agreement says I get a portion of my former spouse’s retirement, so do I even need a QDRO?

A. If the retirement plan is a qualified plan, the plan administrator is prohibited by law to divide the retirement plan, unless a court has entered a Qualified Domestic Relations Order providing the division. Plans that are not qualified, may not accept QDROs, but may accept other types of court orders to divide the retirement accounts.

Q. How long does a QDRO take?

A. It generally takes between two to four months to complete the QDRO process. 

Q. What is the QDRO process?

A. There are several, general steps in the QDRO process, including:

  • Obtain plan documents and information to draft a QDRO
  • Draft QDRO and review it with client
  • Send the QDRO to the plan administrator for preapproval (optional)
  • Provide the QDRO to the former spouse and/or that person's attorney and make a motion before the court for entry
  • Obtain a court certified copy and send it to plan administrator with any necessary documents to implement the QDRO
Q. What is a QILDRO?

A. A QILDRO is Qualified Illinois Domestic Relations Order. A QILDRO is used to divide employee pension plans covered by the Illinois Pension Code. The Illinois Pension Code covers policemen; firemen; state and university teachers; municipal, county, state, park and forest preserve employees and others.

Q. Do I need to go to court for entry of the QDRO?

A. Generally, no. If you have hired an attorney to enter the QDRO and the QDRO is not being litigated, you should not have to appear in court. Your attorney will appear and enter the QDRO on your behalf.

Q. I just got divorced, should I have my QDRO done now or wait until my former spouse retires?

A. You should have your QDRO entered at the time of your dissolution of marriage or soon thereafter. Retirement plan rules vary and, depending upon those rules, you could lose some or all of your benefits if your former spouse retires, dies, is terminated from employment or takes a loan or distribution from the retirement plan.

Q. How much does it cost to retain services and process a QDRO?

A. Curtin Law charges a flat rate for a QDRO, QILDRO and other court orders dividing a retirement plan that is being drafted based upon the marital settlement agreement and is not being litigated. The flat rate is based on the type of retirement plan to be divided and the number of different plans involved.

Q. I was told the plan administrator will not accept a QDRO, what do I do?

A. The plan administrator may still divide the retirement plan, but through an order that is not a QDRO, or they may not accept any court order to divide the plan. It is best to speak with an attorney about the plan, so you can be properly advised about what needs to be done to obtain your portion of the retirement account granted by the court.

Q. I got a divorce 10 years ago and never had a QDRO entered. Can I still enter one?

A. Yes, there is no time limit to enter a QDRO; however, if you wait to enter a QDRO, you can lose some or all the benefits granted in your divorce.

Q. I have a military pension, can a QDRO divide it?

A. No, a QDRO is not accepted to divide a military pension. There are court orders, such as a military retired pay division order, that can be used to divide a military pension provided the laws and rules governing the division of a military pension are met.

Q. If my former spouse dies, can I get survivor benefits?

A. There are pre-retirement benefits and post retirement benefits. Whether you can receive those benefits depends upon:

  • The type of plan;
  • Whether or not the member is retired;
  • The rules of the plan;
  • The division of the benefit ordered by the court;
  • The laws that govern the retirement plan; and
  • The specific facts of your case.

Speaking to an attorney can help to clarify whether or not survivor benefits are available and, if so, whether or not you can receive them.

Q. My former spouse remarried, does that person still receive a portion of my pension?

A. Generally, remarriage does not stop a former spouse from receiving a portion of your pension, unless you have entered an agreement as such, or the laws and rules governing the plan dictate it. For example: A former spouse of an employee covered by the Federal Employees Retirement System who remarries before the age of 55 can lose his survivor benefits. Speaking to an attorney about your pension can provide you with an understanding of the plan benefits and governing rules.

Q. Do I have to wait until my former spouse retires to collect his retirement benefit?

A. That depends upon the type of plan and plan rules. Most defined contribution plans (e.g. 401(k), and 403(b) plans) allow immediate access to the money; however, most defined benefit plans, (e.g. pensions) are paid in a monthly annuity and require the member to retire or reach a minimum retirement age before the former spouse can start receiving the benefit.

Q. My former spouse had his attorney draft the QDRO, do I need to do anything?

A. Your former spouse’s attorney is looking out for the best interest of that person, not you. A QDRO affects both parties. It is either providing you benefits or providing someone else a portion of your benefits. It is in your best interest to have an attorney review the QDRO on your behalf.

Q. Where can I find more information about QDROs?

A. You can visit the United States Department of Labor website by clicking here.