Audi’s four-wheel drive system, the Quattro®, is a great automotive innovation, but it’s no QDRO. They are both nearly identical in pronunciation, but a QDRO has legal muscle, whereas a Quattro®, which admittedly handles great in the snow, is ineffective in court. A QDRO is, in the memorably bureaucratic words of the U.S. Department of Labor, “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.”1 If you really understand that, skip to the end. If not, please continue with our little discourse unfolding in the center ring.


Simply put, a QDRO is a special court order by a Virginia court granting your ex-wife a portion of your retirement benefits you earned through an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Say you work for Quadro’s Quaint Klown Kars finding new and intriguing ways to squeeze another clown into the Kar. You may work for peanuts, but you work for 20 years, salting away retirement funds the whole time. You build up a tidy little nest egg, enough to keep you in giant shoes and red suspenders through your golden years. Your wife leaves you for some clown she met in a bar and files for divorce. A QDRO gives her the right to take a slice of your retirement (cream) pie.

You are the “participant” and she is the “alternate payee,” meaning you participated in the retirement plan. During your marriage, the court and her attorney agree, she provided material support for you, encouraging you to do such a great job at Klown Kars that you got promoted to the Red Nose department (or whatever). Her “material support” means she deserves some of your retirement funds, and the QDRO awards benefits to her (while you are alive and, shudder, after you die).

Is a QDRO the Same as a Domestic Relations Order?

A domestic relations order is not the same as a qualified domestic relations order. A Virginia family law court can come up with the DRO, but to garnish it with that “Q,” the retirement plan itself has to accept the order.

A QDRO only applies to private employers. If you worked for the federal government (again, perhaps, working with a bunch of clowns), you would have something else, like a Court Order Acceptable for Processing (COAP).

What If the QDRO Isn’t in the Divorce Decree?

If the QDRO is not part of the divorce decree, she gets nothing. That may sound very sweet to your ears, but it gets a big horn-honk from her attorney. Her attorney will work long and hard to find out what sort of retirement plan you have, and will weave a QDRO into the proceedings.

If the roles are reversed (she has the plan and you do not), your attorney needs to make very certain to get the QDRO written into the divorce decree, since you get nothing if the order is not in there.

Even after your Virginia divorce, your ex-wife can file for a QDRO if the mechanism for one was not part of the divorce proceedings. She has an uphill task; the divorce must be reopened, her attorney must file with the court, and the court must agree to consider the new DRO (that becomes a QDRO with the consent of your retirement plan). That process could take years, and if your retirement kitty is nothing huge, an attorney may not take the time to pursue it, since your ex-wife may get a very small amount.

If her attorney has just a bit more than a pulse, her attorney will investigate to see if you have an employer-provided retirement plan while she and that attorney are preparing for the divorce. Expect it to come up during property settlement and through discovery.

What Does a QDRO Include?

A QDRO must have a few essentials, just as a clown is expected to have big shoes and a silly wig. The QDRO must have:

  • The name and correct mailing address of the participant and alternate payee
  • The name of the plan (or plans — you possibly could have worked for Classic Clown Cars in your career, too) to which the order applies
  • The dollar amount or percentage of your retirement money to pay to the alternate payee
  • The number of payments or length of time the order is in force

For all that is right with a QDRO, it also must avoid some things, just as a clown must avoid being … creepy:

  • No increased benefits
  • No benefit not otherwise provided by the plan (no free squirting flowers for life, for example)
  • No requirement to pay benefits as a qualified joint and survivor annuity for life
  • No conflicting requirements with other QDROs already in force

Call The Firm For Men’s Divorce Attorneys

If your wife has the retirement plan and is holding out on you, like she’s keeping that bouquet of flowers up her sleeve long after you know it is there, you can contact her retirement plan directly. You have a right, as a prospective “alternate payee,” to get information. The U.S. Department of Labor can back you up on this, if need be, as can your attorney.

At The Firm for Men we can help you get through the hurdles and heartaches of divorce, separation and child custody. Please call us at 757-383-9184 to connect with an attorney who knows a QDRO from the UCMJ from an NDA. We promise not to clown around with your case.


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