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  • Writer's pictureSummers Family Law

Splitting Retirement, Not Penalties: The Magic of QDROs in Divorce

As a family law attorney who routinely handles divorce cases, one of the most complex assets I often help clients divide is retirement accounts like 401(k)s and pensions. Many couples have built up sizable retirement savings over the years, so figuring out who gets what and how to split them up can get tricky, especially when trying to avoid huge tax penalties. This is where QDROs come in handy.


What is a QDRO?


QDRO stands for "qualified domestic relations order." It is a special court order that allows retirement assets to be divided between divorcing spouses without triggering early withdrawal penalties or tax implications.


Here's how it works: A QDRO establishes your right as the alternate payee — usually the ex-spouse - to receive all or part of your ex's retirement plan assets. The QDRO acts as an exception to the retirement plan's prohibition against paying benefits to anyone other than the plan participant.


With a valid QDRO in place, the administrator of the retirement plan can distribute funds from your ex's account to you penalty-free. Think of a QDRO as giving you special access that wouldn't be allowed otherwise.


Why QDROs Matter


If retirement accounts are just split up without a QDRO, the recipient spouse could get slammed with taxes and penalties for early withdrawal if they receive a cash payout before reaching retirement age. Additionally, failing to transfer accounts correctly could disqualify the plans for certain tax benefits. That's why getting a QDRO done right is so important — it protects both spouses' interests in the retirement funds.


How QDROs Work


It's up to you and your spouse to negotiate who gets what portion of the retirement accounts in your settlement agreement. This could be an even 50/50 split, or a proportional division based on factors like income and years married. If you can't agree, the court will decide.


Once you've agreed on the division or the court has issued a ruling, an attorney will draft the QDRO and submit it to the plan administrator for approval. The QDRO will specify the amount or percentage owed to each spouse, and instruct the plan how to distribute the funds.


There is no one-size-fits-all QDRO — the language needs to comply with that particular plan's requirements. An experienced attorney will ensure your QDRO is crafted properly to avoid any hangups.


Let My Firm Help


Dividing up retirement savings requires expertise and attention to detail. Don't risk tax penalties - let my firm handle your retirement account division correctly. We have extensive experience handling QDROs for all types of retirement plans. Contact us today to get started securing your share of the assets.


Disclaimer: The content provided in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and readers should not act upon any information provided without seeking professional legal counsel. The author does not guarantee the completeness or accuracy of the information provided. This blog is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.

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