Retirement Accounts in Divorce and the QDRO

Andrew Hatherley |

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is a court-issued order that divides retirement accounts, such as 401(k) plans and pensions, between divorcing spouses. A QDRO is an important legal document that must be carefully crafted to ensure that it complies with federal laws and regulations. In this blog post, we will explore the basics of QDROs and why they are essential in divorce cases.

What is a QDRO?

A QDRO is a legal document that outlines how retirement benefits will be divided between two parties in a divorce. The order is issued by a court and is necessary because federal laws, such as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Internal Revenue Code (IRC), regulate how retirement accounts can be divided.

Why are QDROs important?

QDROs are essential because they protect the interests of both parties involved in a divorce. Without a QDRO, the non-employee spouse may not be entitled to any portion of the employee spouse's retirement benefits in divorce, even if they were earned during the marriage. This can create significant financial hardships for the non-employee spouse, particularly if they were financially dependent on the employee spouse during the marriage.

Additionally, retirement accounts can be one of the largest assets in a divorce, and dividing them can be complicated. A QDRO ensures that the division of the retirement account is done correctly and in compliance with federal laws. This can prevent disputes and legal issues down the road.

How does a QDRO work?

Once a divorce is finalized, a QDRO must be drafted and signed by the court. The QDRO outlines how the retirement account will be divided, including the percentage or dollar amount that will be awarded to the non-employee spouse.

The QDRO is then sent to the plan administrator for approval. The plan administrator will review the QDRO to ensure that it complies with the plan's rules and federal regulations. Once approved, the plan administrator will divide the retirement account as outlined in the QDRO.

It is important to note that a QDRO only applies to retirement accounts that are subject to federal laws and regulations, such as 401(k) plans and pensions. Other types of retirement accounts, such as Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), do not require a QDRO to divide.


In conclusion, a QDRO is a legal document that is essential in dividing retirement accounts in divorce. QDROs protect the interests of both parties involved and ensure that the division of retirement benefits is done correctly and in compliance with federal laws and regulations. If you are going through a divorce and have retirement accounts to divide, it is important to work with an experienced attorney who can guide you through the QDRO process.