A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is the key to your being able to turn a Divorce Decree which provides you the right to access a portion of your ex-spouse’s retirement benefits into actually getting the retirement savings. It is important that your Divorce Decree specifically state the terms of your settlement or the judge’s orders on the subject of retirement pay.
The reason being is that the QDRO will be drafted based on the Divorce Decree and if you ever need to take your ex-spouse back to court for an enforcement case the language in your Decree ought to be as clear as possible.
As we discussed in yesterday’s blog post, it is good to have the judge sign your QDRO at the same time he or she is signing your Final Decree of Divorce. You and your attorney negotiating a strong settlement for you in terms of retirement benefits is not the last step in dividing certain retirement accounts. A QDRO will also need to be signed by the judge ASAP.
The QDRO will then be sent to your ex-spouse’s retirement plan administrator in order to have the retirement account divided in the manner stated in your Final Decree.
Potential risks when you do not have a QDRO completed during your divorce
The big problem for you to consider as your divorce wraps up is the steps that you take at this stage in your case can still have an impact on your life decades from now. You will want to make sure that your QDRO is completed and submitted to the plan administrator now to ensure any problems are ironed out and the QDRO is processed quickly and correctly.
This will help you to avoid a situation where years from now you find yourself in a position where the retirement benefits you negotiated for have not yet been made available to you.
The benefits of hiring an experienced family law attorney to help you handle retirement benefits
It is an understatement for me to tell you that it is in your best interests to hire an attorney prior to proceeding with a divorce. Not just any sort of attorney, either. You may have a family member or friend who knows an attorney who doesn’t practice family law who has mentioned that he or she could help you with your divorce. Before taking this person up on their offer I would like to offer you a word of caution.
So much of a divorce is about the details of your case.
Yes- many attorneys can file your paperwork, attend any hearings with you and negotiate a Final Decree of Divorce. However, there is so much more to your divorce beyond these headline events that to not have your attorney who has experience and knowledge in the field of family law would be doing yourself a disservice now and in the future.
The reason being is that when it comes down to it you are finalizing a divorce that should help you and your children be set up to succeed for the rest of your lives. Some mistakes that are made in a divorce can be corrected, but one effect of many mistakes that can never be undone is the wasting of time and money.
Not having your QDRO drafted correctly will cost you money and time. My suggestion would be to hire an attorney who works only in family law and knows the importance of the QDRO.
Beyond hiring an attorney, you need to understand that your divorce is just that- yours. It is not your spouse’s, your attorney’s or your judge’s divorce. Take ownership of the case and the decisions that are made in conjunction with your case. If you have questions about any subject in your divorce ask them of your attorney during the divorce.
Assuming that you can handle any aspect of your divorce after it is finalized is a serious mistake. This is especially true when it comes to any financial aspect of your case.
Again: Make sure your Divorce Decree specifically states what amount of a retirement plan is to be paid to you
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have your Final Decree of Divorce reflect the exact percentage/portion of your ex-spouse’s retirement plan that is to be paid to you in the divorce. Your attorney has more to do with this than you do since he or she will be drafting the language but it is your job to look at the Divorce Decree and make sure it is clear what is being allocated to you.
Take your copy of the Mediated Settlement Agreement that you negotiated in mediation and compare it to what is stated in your Divorce Decree. If the language does not seem to be reflective of that agreement then you should ask your attorney questions about it. You are not being a busy-body or an annoyance- this is your job as the client.
On the other hand, if your spouse’s attorney is the one drafting the Divorce Decree, your attorney should be checking in with him or her to ensure that the work is getting done and that the document ultimately reflects what is contained in the Mediated Settlement Agreement.
Again, there is only so much you can do to help this process but one tip I can provide is to allow your attorney to negotiate on your behalf even during this stage of your case. I realize that will be eager to conclude your divorce but getting the language correct in a final order is crucial.
Your attorney should be working on your QDRO simultaneous to the Final Decree of Divorce
Finally, if your spouse’s attorney is the one actually drafting the Final Decree of Divorce, your attorney can spend their time drafting the QDRO. He or she should have contacted the plan administrator for your spouse’s retirement plan in order to determine what exact language needs to be included in the QDRO to make sure that the plan is able to process and complete the transfer of the retirement funds to you as quickly as possible.
Each retirement plan is a little different and it is likely that your attorney can actually request the specific language that ought to be included in the QDRO directly from the plan administrator. There is no sense in waiting to do this step. Make sure your attorney is working with the retirement plan while you wait for a completed draft of the Final Decree of Divorce.
Questions about retirement benefits in a Divorce? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today
Just as you have been intentional with your money during your working life, you need to act with intentionality when it comes to concluding your divorce. Even after mediation or trial there is still work that needs to be done and you cannot let your guard down during this case.
If you are going through a divorce or are beginning to consider filing for divorce you will not be able to find a better advocate for yourself then those with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our office handles only family law cases and would be honored to represent you. Please contact us today to schedule a free of charge consultation with one of our licensed family law attorneys.
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Law Office of Bryan Fagan | Houston, Texas Divorce Lawyers
The Law Office of Bryan Fagan routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
Our divorce lawyers in Houston TX are skilled at listening to your goals during this trying process and developing a strategy to meet those goals. Contact Law Office of Bryan Fagan by calling (281) 810-9760 or submit your contact information in our online form. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan handles Divorce cases in Houston, Texas, Cypress, Klein, Humble, Kingwood, Tomball, The Woodlands, Houston, the FM 1960 area, or surrounding areas, including Harris County, Montgomery County, Liberty County, Chambers County, Galveston County, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Waller County.