Michael G. Putter Attorney at Law
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How does a QDRO affect your former husband’s pension?

While your husband worked, you devoted your life to raising your kids. While the children turned out great, you and your spouse grew apart. Now that you are divorced, you may want to receive a portion of your husband’s pension. If you do not have a qualified domestic relations order, though, you may be out of luck.

When you and your husband divorced, a judge probably issued a divorce decree. While this decree gives you certain rights, it may not allow you to request a percentage of your husband’s pension. Instead, you likely need a QDRO to seek payments pursuant to the plan’s terms. Unfortunately, many divorcees fail to realize they need a separate QDRO until long after divorce proceedings have concluded.

What is a QDRO?

Simply, a QDRO is a court order that entitles you to some of your former husband’s work-sponsored retirement benefits. For you to receive payment through the pension plan, federal law requires you to either obtain a QDRO or to have a divorce decree that qualifies as a QDRO.

Terminology is important in this context. Family courts issue domestic relations orders all the time. A regular order converts to a qualified order when the pension plan administrator accepts it. When that happens, you may use the QDRO to pursue pension payments during your ex-husband’s lifetime or survivor payments after his death.

Why do you need a QDRO?

Often, divorce lawyers prepare QDROs before or during divorce proceedings. This is not always the case, however, as sometimes judges do not issue a QDRO until years after finalizing a divorce. As such, you may need to exercise your legal right to request a QDRO if the judge did not provide one when you received your divorce decree.

Timing is important. While you can probably file a QDRO with your former spouse’s pension plan administrator years after your divorce, doing so may be a mistake. When your ex-husband retires, he may receive pension payments immediately. If you do not have a QDRO on file with the pension provider, you may lose out on your share of these payments. Nonetheless, a QDRO you file late should apply to future disbursements.

If you supported your husband while he worked, you should receive payments from his pension plan. Of course, following a divorce, securing these payments can be challenging. Whether you obtain a QDRO during or after your divorce proceedings, having one is likely an effective strategy for receiving your fair share of your ex-husband’s pension.

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