In some cases, the divorce process can be simple and straightforward. In others, it can be more complex. Depending on your circumstances, failing to properly address details can leave you in unexpected financial trouble down the road. A Florida QDRO is one such detail. “A QDRO is a very technical document which is absolutely essential anytime a 401k, 403b, IRA or other ERISA plan is to be divided between divorcing spouses.” Family Law Attorney Holly Derenthal What Is a QDRO in Florida? QDRO (pronounced “quadro”) is a legal acronym that stands for “qualified domestic relations order.” But what is it, exactly? You may have heard of domestic relations orders, especially if you or someone you know has been through a divorce. Family court judges can issue a variety of domestic relations orders. These orders command parties to do or refrain from doing a variety of things. But a QDRO is a specific court order that gives one spouse the right to a portion of the other spouse’s employer-sponsored retirement plan. The “qualified” part of a qualified domestic relations order means that the retirement plan itself accepts the order as sufficient. In other words, a QDRO isn’t effective unless and until the retirement plan gives its stamp of approval. This stamp of approval is what obligates the plan to distribute the money as specified in the order. Why Do I Need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order in Florida? At the end of a divorce, the judge issues a binding final order dissolving the marriage. Here, the judge spells out exactly how the parties must handle resolved issues. For instance, the judge specifies your child custody arrangements, child support amounts, and distribution of assets in this final order. As part of the distribution of assets, the judge may award Spouse A a portion of Spouse B’s retirement plan upon Spouse B’s retirement. Most people would probably think this is enough. After all, it is the final order of dissolution of marriage signed by a judge. Why wouldn’t it be enough to ensure the proper distribution of pension benefits? ERISA But if your plan falls under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), then you also need a QDRO. Federal law requires it. Under these retirement plans, the plan participant (the spouse earning the pension) is not allowed to sign their benefits over to anyone else. Therefore, for the plan administrator to give some of the money to the non-participant spouse, a QDRO must be properly executed and filed. Potential Consequences When there’s no QDRO in place, three things can happen. If your ex-spouse’s pension is not a qualified plan under ERISA, the plan administrator may accept this stipulation and divide the pension according to the final order of divorce. If the plan is a qualified plan, then the plan administrator is under no obligation to honor the language of the final order. They may honor it, or they may not. To avoid this potential pitfall, it is best to make a QDRO part of your divorce. If your divorce is already finalized without a QDRO, you can file one after the fact. However, if your ex-spouse has already retired and begun getting payments from their retirement account, the filing of a QDRO will only apply to future allocations. In other words, you cannot get payments retroactively if you didn’t have a QDRO in place when benefit distribution began. Can I File a Florida QDRO Myself? You need the assistance of a qualified, experienced attorney to create and properly file a QDRO in Florida. There are many thousands of different retirement plans out there. Each plan has unique requirements for what must be included in a valid QDRO. Each plan also has specific requirements for filing a QDRO properly. If you fail to meet all requirements, the plan administrator can reject it and refuse to pay benefits to the former spouse. It is nearly impossible for a non-lawyer to know the specifics of each type of qualified domestic relations order in Florida. Having a lawyer complete and properly file the QDRO can save a great deal of heartache down the road. We Are Here for You The lawyers at BrewerLong are here to serve you. You can count on our experienced family lawyers to guide you through the labyrinth of laws relating to child support, child custody, and divorce in Florida. We are friendly faces that you can count on. And when the going gets rough, we never back down from a challenge. We are here to protect your rights every step of the way. So call us today or contact us online to set up your initial consultation. We look forward to serving you.
State and Federal shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19 have resulted in unprecedented interruptions to the economy. Many people have lost part or all of their income due to layoffs, furloughs, and business closures. Because of this, child support and alimony payment orders that depend on income are in question. Despite the current global turmoil, people must pay child support and alimony unless a court issues an order modifying the existing orders. Without a court order modifying or terminating child support or alimony payments, a motion for contempt may be filed against the individual behind on payments. When Can I Modify My Child Support or Alimony Payments? Florida permits courts to modify child support and alimony payments if the financial situation of the payor experiences a “substantial change in circumstances.” Modifications of child support and alimony orders are considered very serious; however, when the proper circumstances exist, modifications may be granted. To modify child support or alimony payments, you will need to file a petition with the court in the county where the case originated. A “substantial change in circumstances” must exist to warrant a modification of any existing child support or alimony orders. The change in circumstances must also be unforeseen. Nationwide, millions of Americans are experiencing substantial and unexpected changes in their financial situation due to COVID-19. Therefore, the inability to pay existing child support or alimony orders due to COVID-19 may warrant a modification. Your income does not need to have changed by any set amount before filing a petition for modification. However, in child support orders, the modification must result in a difference of $50 or 15% (whichever is greater) from the prior existing order. Whatever the reason, losing your job or being furlough for an extended period can have a devastating impact on your financial resources. The responsible thing to do in these situations is to evaluate your ability to continue to make child support and alimony payments in the same amounts that were determined in the past. Family Law Attorney Holly Derenthal What Is the Process for Seeking a Modification? Requests for modification of child support are likely to be granted if the modification serves the best interests of the child or children. Your supplemental petition to modify child support outlines the basic details of the case, specifically the purposes and facts surrounding the request for modification. Due to COVID-19, some counties may have closed their courthouses to non-essential hearings. Determining whether your situation qualifies as an emergency requires the review and support of an experienced family law attorney. How Can BrewerLong Help Me Modify My Support Obligations? Each county in Florida has different local requirements for a petition to modify child support or alimony payments. The process can be confusing, further complicated by the stress and uncertainty in the time of COVID-19. In Orange County, legal services are considered an essential business. BrewerLong attorneys continue to work in the office without interruption in serving client needs. Contact BrewerLong to learn more about your options for modifying your child support or alimony orders in the time of COVID-19.