As with most financial accounts, retirement accounts afford the participant (person contributing to the account/account holder) the opportunity to place beneficiaries on the account in the event the participant becomes deceased prior to extinguishing the funds in the account. A common question often in the mind of the participant is, “What will happen to my retirement account if I get divorced?” In Florida, the income of the husband and wife is considered to be marital property, as well as the benefits received therefrom. Funding a retirement account using funds from your income (paycheck or individual deposit) could designate all, or at least a portion of your retirement account as marital property. The problem with dividing up a retirement account as part of a divorce proceeding is that both the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the IRS prohibit retirement plan participants from assigning their interests in their plan to anyone absent a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO).
QDRO is a court order that creates a right in the “alternate payee” (former spouse) to receive a portion of the benefits that would be payable to the participant (other former spouse) in accordance with that specific retirement plan’s rules. In reality the way this works is either by agreement between the parties or by order of the court, the alternate payee will be designated a portion of the other spouse’s retirement plan expressed either as a specific dollar amount or as a percentage of the marital portion of the account balance as of a valuation date. If the participant began contributing to the plan after the parties were married, the valuation date is usually the date of the filing of the petition for dissolution of marriage or any other date as agreed to by the parties or ordered by the court. If the participant was contributing to the plan before the parties were married then the valuation of the account is usually determined as the value of the plan on the valuation date minus the value of the plan on the date of marriage. After the dollar amount or percentage is determined and final judgment has been entered by the court a proposed QDRO will need to be drafted. The first step in drafting a QDRO is for the attorney or draftsperson to contact the Plan Administrator (PA) for a sample QDRO specific to your plan. Depending on the response time from the PA your order could be draft in a little as a day or two or in as much as two to three weeks. After the proposed QDRO has been drafted the attorney will then send the proposed QDRO to the PA for review. This process usually takes about 30 days. Upon receipt from the PA that the proposed QDRO complies with the plan rules it is sent to a Judge for signature to become a valid and binding court order. The attorney will send the signed QDRO back to the PA who will then begin administering the plan according to the order.
QDRO’s are very specific in nature to each retirement plan and may vary greatly depending on the outcome of each individual divorce. If you think you may be involved in a divorce and would like some more in depth information about how your retirement account could be affected please contact one of our outstanding attorneys here at The Orlando Law Group PL at 407-512-4394. Offices Waterford Lakes, Lake Nona and Dr. Phillips.