The preparation, filing and approval of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) takes time and care. Completion usually takes one to six months, but it can take longer, depending on the complexity of the Plan, the clarity and precision of the wording of the Divorce Decree (Judgement) or Settlement Agreement, and the cooperation of the other spouse.
Here are the steps:
1. Gathering information.
The QDRO practitioner needs information about both spouses, including names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of marriage and divorce, etc. This includes copies of the divorce decree or separation agreement, so the practitioner can determine the share going to each party. In addition, except in military or Federal Civil Service Plans, the practitioner needs a copy of the Summary Plan Description (SPD) and Written QDRO Procedures (WQP).
2. Drafting your QDRO.
The QDRO practitioner drafts the QDRO, and the client reviews and approves it. Depending on the plan, the domestic relations order may have a variety of names; however, the different types of orders are basically similar to each other; but there are significant differences. All of them are informally referred to as QDROs, even when they are technically called something else.
3. Approval by the other party.
The draft is sent to the spouse or his or her attorney for review and approval. The other party should, if he or she acts reasonably, accept the QDRO, as long as it accurately reflects the underlying provisions of the divorce decree or separation agreement. At this point, however, neither party should sign the QDRO.
4. Approval by Plan as draft.
The draft of the QDRO is sent to the pension plan administrator for approval. The Plan Administrator may request changes in the draft QDRO. If the Plan Administrator requests any changes in the QDRO, the practitioner negotiates them. It is not unusual for Plan Administrator to request changes in QDROs; in fact, this happens in about half the time. These usually involve minor changes in wording, not the amounts involved. A few corporate plans also decline to review draft QDROs. In such cases, this is omitted and you proceed directly to the next step.
5. Signature of QDRO by Judge of the State Divorce Court.
Once the QDRO has been approved in draft form, both parties sign it, and it presented to the State Divorce Court for signature by a Judge.
6. Obtain a certified copy of the QDRO.
Once the judge signs the QDRO, the alternate payee should obtain several certified copies of the QDRO. A certified copy is one that bears the original signature and seal of the clerk of the court. A certified copy usually may be obtained from the clerk of the court. A certified copy is sent to the Plan Administrator for final approval, acceptance and payment.
7. Final acceptance by the plan.
Final approval happens very quickly, especially if the plan has already reviewed the QDRO as a draft.