The resolution of a divorce action, whether by trial or settlement, can take months or sometimes years. Understandably, after receiving the judgment of divorce, many people are less than eager to seek yet another order from the Court. However, if you are entitled to share in your (former) spouse’s retirement benefits you will have to get a separate order at the conclusion of the divorce called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)(or just plain Domestic Relations Order if it’s a government plan) before you can receive anything from the pension or retirement account.
The judgment of divorce by itself does nothing to get you paid. Even if your settlement agreement, trial decision, and/or Judgment of Divorce states that a pension or 401k is to be divided between the parties, most pension administrators will not actually split the pension without a QDRO. The QDRO is a special order that identifies the exact name of the plan, the Participant (also sometimes referred to as the Member or employee spouse), the Alternate Payee (also sometimes referred to as the Former Spouse or non-employee spouse), the exact amount or percentage to be awarded, or a formula to be used to calculate the award, and other terms required by law.
Unappealing as it may seem, there are numerous reasons why you do not want to wait to apply for a QDRO.