Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

We all know divorce can require a lot of paperwork depending on the circumstances of your marriage as well as the number of shared assets you have. In the greater Seattle area we are home to many companies who provide stock, restricted stock units (RSU), pension and retirement plans which, upon divorce, may need to be divided as an asset of the marriage. While some retirement plans allow a person to roll over a portion of the retirement into another qualifying account, others require division in the form of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. This requires careful drafting as each company has a different format in which they want their domestic relations order, and before entry, each company requires draft domestic relations orders be submitted to them in order to determine if they are qualified before being entered with the court.  With a QDRO filed, the state will allow one party who is entrusted with managing retirement and pension plans to allocate a portion of the plan’s benefits to the owner’s former spouse. These orders only apply for pension or benefit plans subject to federal law that governs private-sector pensions or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

If you’re interested in learning more about QDROs and possibly filing one, contact an experienced Washington family law attorney as soon as possible.

Seattle Divorce Lawyer | Washington QDRO Form

For more information about how you get file a qualified domestic relations order, contact Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson. The attorneys at Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson have been practicing exclusively family law collectively for over twenty years. We take great pride in providing excellent service and guiding our clients through every step of the process so ultimately their interests are protected. Get top-tier guidance from a skilled and dedicated Washington divorce lawyer now with Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson.

Call (206) 712-2756 to set up your first consultation to discuss your case with one of our attorneys. Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson accepts clients throughout the greater King County and Snohomish County area including Federal Way, Kirkland, Issaquah, Redmond, and Seattle.

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QDRO Form Washington State

Retirement accounts for many people are the most valuable asset they own. So, naturally, if you divorce your former spouse your interest in retirement assets may be subject to division. The matter is executed through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, which is a legal document that allows one spouse to receive assets from an employer-sponsored retirement plan. It’s important to note the order only applies to retirement/pension plans that are subject to the federal law applying to private-sector pensions or plans under ERISA.

In most cases, Washington courts will do their best to split the pension/retirement plan’s asset fairly between the two former spouses, taking into consideration the overall property division. This division can only be done if the QDRO is filed with the state court alongside or after a divorce decree has been filed. Spouses who receive a portion of the other’s retirement/pension plan is referred to as an “alternate payee” and the employee earning the benefit is the “participant.”

It’s important to understand that there are specific requirements for QDRO documents based on the retirement/pension plan you or your spouse has. Retirement or pension Plan Administrators are not obligated to accept a QDRO if they don’t fit their guidelines. They may request very specific language to be used and provisions to be fulfilled until they will accept an QDRO order. That is why we encourage you to obtain the help of an experienced attorney who has practice filing QDRO forms with all types of employee-sponsored retirement plans.

Plans that may be subject to division under a QDRO include, but are not limited to:

  • IRAs
  • Profit sharing plans
  • Deferred compensation plans
  • Defined benefit pension plans
  • Tax-deferred annuities
  • 401(k) plans
  • Military retirement
  • Labor union pensions
  • State and federal civil service pensions
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QDRO Process

It can take time to properly file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) as the details may require special care. Most forms are filed within a few months following the entry of final orders but depending on how intricate the plan is it could take longer. Plus, if your former spouse doesn’t agree to the language in the domestic relations order, then you may have to navigate the court system until a judge orders how the plans should be divided.

The steps to filing a Qualified Domestic Relations Order can be found below.

  1. The first step will be to file for divorce or legal separation under Washington law. That will begin the process for property/asset division which includes retirement plans.
  2. Both parties must research retirement plan information so they can properly fill out the form which can include Social Security numbers, account numbers, etc.
  3. Each party must come to an agreement on how retirement/pension plans should be divided. If they are unable to do so, a judge may decide how benefits are distributed.
  4. With the help of an experienced attorney, one party drafts a QDRO.
  5. Once the other party accepts the QDRO, then it can be sent to the Plan Administrator
  6. The Plan may approve the form or reject and ask for changes to be made
  7. If the Plan Administrator approves, then the QDRO is signed by the parties and filed with the appropriate court
  8. A judge will sign the QDRO and a copy will be sent to the Plan Administrator
  9. From there, the Administrator will send an acceptance letter to both parties and the division of retirement accounts will be finalized
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Can Money Received from a QDRO Be Received Immediately?

When you receive the money from a filed QDRO will depend on which plan your former spouse has. Defined contribution plans such as 401ks can be subject to division immediately and you can receive funds as soon as administratively possible once the document is filed. Defined benefit plans though work differently.

For a defined benefit plan, you’ll have to wait until the participant (your former spouse) retires. If the participant isn’t retired yet, then you as the former spouse can choose to start the pension once the participant is of retirement age. For most plans, 55 is the earliest retirement age available.

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Common Issues with QDROs

The process of properly filing a QDRO with the court is time-consuming in itself. What’s more concerning is often recently divorced couples encounter various issues when filing which can extend the process even longer. Hiring an experienced QDRO Washington lawyer who understands these documents in detail can help you avoid any unnecessary mistakes so you can receive your portion of benefits in a timely manner.

Listed below are some common issues divorced couples face when filing a QDRO.

  • Incomplete/incorrect information provided in the document
  • The agreement is not in compliance with federal law or plan procedures
  • One party will not agree to the terms of the QDRO
  • The QDRO does not meet the specific language requirements for the plan
  • Delayed response from the Plan Administrator
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Additional Resources

QDRO FAQ | U.S. Department of Labor – Visit the official website for the U.S. Department of Labor to read a document provided by them that details answers to frequently asked questions about QDRO. Access the site to learn what a QDRO is, information required for plans under ERISA, when to file the order, and other important information.

Sample of QDRO – Visit the official website for the city of Tacoma, Washington to access their free sample form of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. This is an example only, as each company has a different domestic relations form language.  However, you can access this form to see what the language is like, what is required from you, and other information.

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Qualified Domestic Relations Order Lawyer, Washington | Seattle

Division of retirement and/or pension plans is necessary if you’re divorcing, but it’s important for your financial security and health that you take the proper steps when doing so. If not, it could affect your retirement plans in the future and result in economic hardship. If you are in the process of filing a QDRO, contact the Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson.

Shana Thompson and her team have dedicated years to protecting the interests of their clients through above and beyond legal representation. She understands the various complicated steps required to successfully file a QDRO and has guided many other divorced couples through the process with ease. Call Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson today at (206) 712-2756 to learn more and set up your first consultation.

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