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?
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.
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.