I have been awarded a portion of my ex-spouse’s retirement account and I’m told I need a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) to effectuate the transfer.  How long will it take for the QDRO to be completed so that I can access the funds that were awarded to me?

By Lisa M. Meier

The time that it takes to draft and implement a QDRO varies greatly depending on a variety of factors.   Sometimes the process only takes 4-6 weeks; other times, the process takes 4-6 months. The basic steps involved in the drafting and implementation of a QDRO are as follows:

1.    Contacting the Plan Administrator for the retirement account and requesting the  Summary Plan Description and any sample QDRO language;

2.    Drafting the QDRO;

3.    Sending the draft of the QDRO to the Plan Administrator for preliminary approval;

4.    If the QDRO is rejected, making any necessary revisions to the QDRO and sending the revised draft back to the Plan Administrator for preliminary approval;

5.    If the QDRO is accepted, securing attorneys’ signatures or the parties’ signatures in the event they are not represented by attorneys;

6.     Sending the QDRO to the Court for signature and entry;

7.     Ordering a certified copy of the QDRO once it has been signed and entered by the Court;

8.      Forwarding a certified copy of the QDRO to the Plan Administrator for final review and implementation; and

9.       Implementation.

In addition to the above listed steps, some Plan Administrators require the expiration of a 30 day comment period and a 60-90 day appeal period after they have received a certified copy of the QDRO before they will implement the terms of the QDRO.  Under federal law, once a Plan Administrator has received a certified copy of a QDRO, they have a reasonable amount of time to implement the QDRO.  While ERISA case law has not specifically defined the term “reasonable,” in one ERISA case, it was determined that a Plan Administrator taking approximately 180 days to implement a QDRO from the date of receipt of a certified copy of the QDRO was reasonable.

In the event the retirement account is a defined benefit plan, you may not be able to access the funds in the account until certain requirements have been met (actual retirement of your ex-spouse, your ex-spouse attaining the “earliest retirement age” as defined by the Plan, etc.).   However, if the retirement account is a defined contribution plan, you will be able to access the funds in the account once you complete the paperwork requesting a withdrawal.  The Plan Administrator will provide this paperwork to you once the QDRO has been implemented.