WHAT IS A QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER?
A “qualified domestic relation order” (QDRO) is a domestic relations order that creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee’s right to receive, or assigns to an alternate payee the right to receive, all or a portion of the benefits payable with respect to a participant under a retirement plan, and that includes certain information and meets certain other requirements.
WHAT IS A DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER?
A domestic relations order is a judgment, decree, or order (including the approval of a property settlement) that is made pursuant to state domestic relations law (including community property law) and that relates to the provision of child support, alimony payments, or marital property rights for the benefit of a spouse, former spouse, child, or other dependent of a participant.
A state authority, generally a court, must actually issue a judgment, order, or decree or otherwise formally approve a property settlement agreement before it can be a domestic relations order under ERISA. The mere fact that a property settlement is agreed to and signed by the parties will not, in and of itself, cause the agreement to be a domestic relations order.
There is no requirement that both parties to a marital proceeding sign or otherwise endorse or approve an order. It is also not necessary that the retirement plan be brought into state court or made a party to a domestic relations proceeding for an order issued in that proceeding to be a domestic relations order or a qualified domestic relations order. Indeed, because state law is generally preempted to the extent that it relates to retirement plans, the Department takes the position that retirement plans cannot be joined as a party in a domestic relations proceeding pursuant to state law. Moreover, retirement plans are neither permitted nor required to follow the terms of domestic relations orders purporting to assign retirement benefits unless they are QDROs.
MUST A DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER BE ISSUED AS PART OF A DIVORCE PROCEEDING TO BE A QDRO?
A domestic relations order that provides for child support or recognizes marital property rights may be a QDRO, without regard to the existence of a divorce proceeding. Such an order, however, must be issued pursuant to state domestic relations law and create or recognize the rights of an individual who is an alternate payee (spouse, former spouse, child, or other dependent of a participant).
An order issued in a probate proceeding begun after the death of the participant that purports to recognize an interest with respect to retirement benefits arising solely under state community property law, but that doesn’t relate to the dissolution of a marriage or recognition of support obligations, is not a QDRO because the proceeding does not relate to a legal separation, marital dissolution, or family support obligation.
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