What is a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order)?

Your mediator or your attorney has told you that a QDRO comes next, and it can be a long process. As QDRO preparation experts, we frequently receive calls from divorcing parties asking us to explain what a QDRO is, what happens if they do not have a QDRO prepared and why the QDRO process would possibly take 6 to 8 months, or even longer. Here are some answers for these QDRO questions.

By Pension Analysis Consultants, Inc. (PAC)
September 11, 2013
Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

What is a QDRO? (pronounced "Kwa-dro")

A QDRO, an acronym for Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or also referred to as a QUADRO, is a court order to the pension or retirement plan that indicates and enables a portion of the employee's (Participant's) pension to be paid to the non-employee spouse (the Alternate Payee). The Plan requires a QDRO in order to allow and make these payments. For federal, armed forces retirement systems and state or teacher's retirement systems, your QDRO-like Order is actually a COAP (Court Order Acceptable for Processing). an MCO (Military Court Order) or a DRO (Domestic Relations Order). There may be even other equivalent Orders with different names and acronyms, depending on your particular matter and Plan. QDROs are normally custom-drafted for each individual case's needs.

Your IRA may not need a QDRO

If the Plan rejects the draft IRA QDRO because it is not required, a portion or the entire fee of the custom-drafted Order may be non-refundable. This becomes important if your QDRO is on an IRA (Individual Retirement Account). If you need to distribute an IRA, it is best to check first with the investment company handling the IRA Administration to see if a QDRO is actually required. A letter may suffice in lieu of a QDRO.

What happens if a QDRO is not prepared?

Without a QDRO, the benefits of the Participant will go directly to the Participant. A QDRO makes the Plan aware that this is a divorce matter and that benefits are to be distributed according to the details of the Order. A properly drafted QDRO will address survivor benefits so that the former spouse can be assured of receiving benefits if the Participant dies after divorce. Without a QDRO the former spouse may be shocked to learn that she may not be able to receive her benefit. A properly drafted Order always follows the distribution details agreed to by the parties in the MSA (Marital Settlement Agreement) or the PSA (Property Settlement Agreement) or Decree.

Why does a QDRO take so long?

Your pension actuarial expert drafts the QDRO approximately two weeks from receipt of your completed request form, the distribution details from the MSA or the PSA or Decree, and the QDRO fee. The draft QDRO, called an Order, then must be reviewed by the Plan and become designated as approved. The review by the Plan committee can take about two weeks to six months, or longer. This process can be highly technical and may require additional reviews and modifications to be approved by the Plan. Once approved, the draft Order must be court-certified to designate it as a QDRO. If pre-approval review service is offered by your pension actuarial expert, you may want to consider it so that the review process can be efficient and court-certification will be needed only once.


With 23 years of experience in performing over 35,000 pension valuations, Pension Analysis Consultants, Inc. (PAC) is one of the nation's leading pension valuation and QDRO service firms. PAC has the credentials and experience to provide the highest level of actuarial expertise at the critical junction of equitable distribution in divorce, assisting divorce attorneys and mediators in providing the best representation for their clients in the complex area of pension analysis.

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September 11, 2013
Categories:  Financial Issues|FAQs

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