QDRO Process From Start to Finish

The Qualified Domestic Relations Order process can be somewhat complex and confusing to most divorcing couples. At A People’s Choice, we can help you obtain a QDRO for the division of a retirement/pension plan based on the terms of your divorce decree.  We are often asked to explain to clients the QDRO process from start to finish. Read on to learn more about the steps in the QDRO process and how we can help you.

What is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order?

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a judicial order entered as part of a property division in a divorce or legal separation. The QDRO is the legal process that divides a retirement/pension plan. The QDRO formally 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.

Private pensions and benefit plans such as 401(k), 403(b), and 457 may be divided by a QDRO. In addition, federal and state civil service plans and IRAs may also be divided by a QDRO.

The following steps in the QDRO process outline the QDRO process from start to finish and will help you understand what needs to be done to effectively divide the community property interest in a retirement plan after a divorce.

Steps of  the QDRO Process From Start to Finish

Step 1- Gather Information

To begin the QDRO process, you will need to gather information such as the Plan name and Plan Administrator pertaining to the specific benefits that need to be divided. Your divorce decree must be completed to determine the amount of the retirement or pension Plan to be divided. If a Judgment has not been entered in your divorce proceedings, you will need to wait until a Judgment has been entered.

To prepare the QDRO, you will need to get information about your former spouse and your marriage. This information includes your spouse’s name, current address, social security number, date of marriage, date of separation and date of final Judgment of divorce. You will also need to know the exact name of the retirement plan and the name and address of the Plan Administrator. This information can usually be obtained from the employer of the participant spouse. Obtain the Summary Plan Description and QDRO Procedures from the Plan Administrator. The Plan Administrator will usually have a package of information available that outlines their QDRO policies and procedures. Our glossary of QDRO terms will help you understand some of the unique words that you will need to understand as you go through this process. If the Plan Administrator provides you with their plan package, it is important that you provide this package to the legal professional who is assisting you in drafting the QDRO.

Step 2 – Draft the QDRO

Once you obtain the information above, draft your QDRO. The QDRO is drafted as a stipulated order assuming both parties have agreed to the manner in which the retirement/pension will be divided. It should be drafted in compliance with the QDRO procedures received from the Plan Administrator. A legal professional such as A People’s Choice will be able to help in the drafting of the QDRO to meet the Plan’s criteria. Contact us for more information.

Step 3 – Obtain Spousal Approval

Once you have drafted the QDRO, ask for your former spouse’s approval of the drafted document. So long as the QDRO reflects the underlying provisions of the divorce decree, the former spouse, or their attorney, should provide his/her approval. This step is optional and may be avoided in the event the other party acts irrational. The QDRO does not need to be signed at this point.

Step 4- Obtain Plan Administrator Approval

Next, a copy of the QDRO is sent to the Plan Administrator for approval. The Plan Administrator may request changes to be made, which is quite common. Military and federal civil service pensions are not pre-approved by the Plan Administrator. Having your QDRO pre-approved can reassure that it will be approved once the judge authorizes the order.

Step 5 – Have All Parties Sign the QDRO

After the Plan Administrator has pre-approved the QDRO, the document can be signed by both parties. Some Plans require the Plan Administrator to also sign the final QDRO. Check with the Plan Administrator to determine the requirements of the Plan.

Sometimes a situation may arise where a spouse refuses to sign the QDRO. If this happens, don’t panic. It is possible to file a motion with the court requesting an order for the Court Clerk to sign on behalf of the other party. Contact A People’s Choice if your spouse is refusing to sign a Qualified Domestic Relations Order that has been prepared according to your Judgment of Dissolution.

Step 6 – Obtain Judge Approval of the QDRO

Once the Plan Administrator pre-approves your plan and all parties have signed the QDRO, the original document can be submitted to the court for the Judge’s approval. The QDRO will need to be filed in the court that has jurisdiction over the divorce. The judge will review and sign the order and the Court Clerk will file and enter it in the court records.

Step 7 – Send Certified Copy of QDRO to Plan Administrator

A certified copy of the QDRO is then distributed to the Plan Administrator. There may be other documentation the Plan requires in order to divide the Plan. This might include a supplement that is not filed with the court containing personal information of both parties. The Plan Administrator will review the signed QDRO and process it rather quickly if pre-approval was obtained.  Once the retirement account has been divided, the Plan Administrator will set up a separate account for the Alternate Payee with their awarded portion of the retirement account.

What if a party needs the cash now? Rather than rolling the fund over, if one party decides to take a cash distribution from their former spouse’s Plan, the Plan is required to withhold 20% of the awarded amount for Federal income taxes. The gross amount that party receives will be treated as income; however, they will be able to claim the amount which the Plan withholds on their Federal income tax return when they file taxes the following year.

We hope this information has explained the QDRO process from start to finish in an easy-to-understand manner. Be aware that the QDRO process usually takes 2-3 months to complete.  Contact A People’s Choice for more information about the steps in the QDRO process and how we can help you draft a QDRO.

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By | 2018-01-18T15:47:01+00:00 March 21st, 2016|Family Law|20 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. Lillian Castaneda August 4, 2016 at 8:56 pm - Reply

    What happens when a former employer (who provided the retirement plan) requires the former spouse to show up in person before they will disburse the funds? (Meaning that the former employer will not disburse the funds for the original employee until the former spouse shows up in person at the office?”

    • Sandy McCarthy August 4, 2016 at 10:22 pm - Reply

      Usually a QDRO order is required to divide retirement funds. This includes obtain a court order and both parties signing the document.

  2. Gracw April 25, 2017 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Can the recipient of the employee’s funds cash out part of their funds or does the whole amount have to be put into another plan?

    • Sandy McCarthy April 25, 2017 at 2:25 pm - Reply

      You should be able to cash it out AFTER they split it into a separate but most likely it would be a “taxable” event. The purpose of the QDRO is that it avoids the division being taxable. A cash out after the split would not. Talk to your CPA how this would affect you.

  3. Lisa June 15, 2017 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    Hi there, I hired a paralegal in Dec 2016 to prepare a quadro. It’s been six months! It’s like pulling teeth with a tooth pick to get him to reply. At this point I am concerned that he is blowing me off as he refuses to communicate with me. I have endless emails. I am asking if that is typical of how paralegals are supposed to treat their paying clients. Thank you

    • Sandy McCarthy June 15, 2017 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      First, if you hired a “paralegal” rather than a legal document assistant such as our office, that may have been your first mistake. Paralegals are not authorized to provide services directly to the public. If a paralegal is offering services to the general public they would be doing so illegally. You should have hired a registered legal document assistant. With regards to your other question, failure to respond to communications from a client would, if our office, be completely unacceptable. In fact, our office demands that staff respond to emails within the day of receipt. You may want to sue for the return of your money and hire another company that is reputable. We would be happy to assist you in this matter should you wish to reach out to us at 800-747-2780.

  4. Cora August 2, 2017 at 10:53 pm - Reply

    Hi Sandy
    Just called the law office that is handling my QDRO since I was following up, Its taking a while and I always get an answer that I’m in line. Its been 2 months (May) now its August. Approximately how long ? And I never get a call or an update I have to be the one calling, that goes with my divorce lawyer as well. I’m looking for a new divorce lawyer right now and also thinking if my QDRO is with the right firm which my divorce lawyer referred.

    Can you give me an advise?

    • Sandy McCarthy August 2, 2017 at 11:26 pm - Reply

      QDROs can take several months but I cannot comment in your particular case since I do not know what efforts the lawyer has made with the draft or contacting the Plan Administrator regarding this. You might want to try and get some more information. If you feel your are being ignored, you may consider a Plan B company who will respond to your communications. Ignoring a client’s communication is, in our opinion, unacceptable.

  5. Virginia August 4, 2017 at 2:06 am - Reply


    I have a retirement account with TIAA-CREF. Recently, the Judge ordered my former husband to transfer QDRO some of the money from his Scottrade accounts. Could you please let me know from where I start? Can I use TIAA-CREF and open with them an IRA or I need to open a Scottrade account? Thank you.

    • Sandy McCarthy August 5, 2017 at 3:13 am - Reply

      Did you prepare the QDRO??

  6. Jean Boyle August 30, 2017 at 2:06 am - Reply

    Hi Sandy, My ex was ordered to arrange a QDRO within 6 months of our divorce, his Attorney was to forward all documents to me. I am bipolar and have been in a fog for years, last year my life and meds changed and last night I read my divorce papers for the 1st time. This order was never carried through with, how do I go about getting what was supposed to be done, done, and am I entitled to interest on the amount I should have received?

    • Sandy McCarthy August 30, 2017 at 3:41 am - Reply

      You can hire a service like ours to prepare the QDRO. Hopefully it is not too late. You did not indicate how long ago you were divorced. Give us a call at 800-747-2780 if you need assistance.

  7. Mike Munsey October 5, 2017 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    I had my attorney write up a QDRO for division of my retirement. It’s in the form of a stipulation, which has to be signed by the various parties, or so I thought. The Retirement plan has given preliminary approval of the QDRO. My ex has had the stipulation for almost a month (Certified mail) and has not responded. When I went to court, the judge looked at my paperwork and stated “this isn’t a QDRO, its only a stipulation. You need to come back with the QDRO”. I’ve looked at various sites online that do QDRO’s preparation and they all say that you first must have the stipulation and after it’s signed by the judge it becomes the QDRO. What am I missing? The attorney, who currently lives in the northern part of the state is perplexed as well.

    • Sandy McCarthy October 8, 2017 at 9:05 am - Reply

      First, we would have to see what you prepared. If your wife is not cooperating and signing the QDRO, we can assist in filing a motion to request the court sign on her behalf if the drafted QDRO complies with the terms of the judgment. Please give our office a call at 800-747-2780 extension 0.

  8. Melania Bettarelli December 23, 2017 at 2:19 am - Reply

    My QDRO has been signed by the judge and then filed last November , but I have just been notified that my ex husband employer just changed the pension administrator in August. I am the alternate payee and now the new admin – Fidelity – is currently reviewing my QDRO to determine qualification.
    I am concerned that they may ask for a new QDRO, which would be excruciating for me. The filed QDRO language – it is a 401k – specify plan name, both participant and alternate payee information, valuation date, specific dollar amount, gains and losses, outstanding loans, commencement of alternate payee awards, taxation, etc. Now I am really concerned the new bookkeeper will not accept my assets valuation date ( 2010 )
    Thank you for any insight

    • Sandy McCarthy December 25, 2017 at 3:06 pm - Reply

      The valuation date should be established by the Judgment itself so the fact that the Plan administrator changed should have no bearing on that.

  9. Lucy February 26, 2018 at 9:15 pm - Reply

    Sandra I divorced and I was given half of my ex retirement. And I did qdro and the check was mailed to me, in order for me to roll over to IRA account. My cpa advice told me to bring the check to her office and I did. And they told me that I will receive mail from retirement company within 5days. After 14days i never receive any letter.I conducted the Pca and she told me she received the policy from Retirement company. I ask who’s address on the policy. They asked me if I can come to the office to review the account. Sandra please help I never did this before.

    • Sandy McCarthy February 28, 2018 at 3:06 am - Reply

      Too may want to talk to an attorney. I’m not sure what your question is regarding. Typically when a QDRO is processed, a separate account is set up for the alternate payee. I am not sure why you would have a check or why you would bring a check to your CPA on this. if you want to call her off at you can reach us at 800-747-2780. We may be able to look at the court docket to see what has been filed.

  10. Susan April 12, 2018 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Hello Sandy, my divorce judgement was entered for July 2016, we were married for 14 years, My x is entitled to half of the pension of the 14 years. A jointer has been filed with Calpers. If I don’t plan on retiring for another 4 years, should I have a QDRO drafted or just wait until I am close to retirement?

    • Sandy McCarthy April 14, 2018 at 3:08 am - Reply

      A QDRO is typically filed right away. You may be forfeiting income since date of separation. I would get it done asap!

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