What You Need to Know about QDROs in Florida
Getting divorced involves much more than just physically separating from your spouse. Before a divorce can be finalized, a couple must come to an agreement regarding numerous issues, including the division of property and assets. Whether as a result of negotiations or a court order, a determination about the division of a couple’s retirement accounts and pension must be made before the divorce can be finalized.
However, merely having a court order with a dollar amount specifying how much one spouse is owed from the other’s retirement account is not enough; this order will not be enforced without a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO.
What Is a QDRO?
A QDRO is an order, issued by a family court in Florida, that establishes one party’s right to obtain payments/benefits from the retirement account of another party. A QDRO can be issued as part of the original divorce judgment, or can be obtained post-divorce. Either way, however, it is important to note that owed retirement benefits will not be distributed without a QDRO. The QDRO must be approved before the alternate payee (the spouse to whom benefits must be distributed) will be awarded any benefits.
Obtaining a QDRO
The first thing that you should know about obtaining a QDRO is that working with a lawyer is strongly recommended; you should not fill out QDRO forms yourself as there is significant room for error, which could impede your right to benefits. There are also different types of retirement and pension plans, and the specific information that each requires may vary.
For example, if you are seeking a Qualified Domestic Relations Orders in relation to benefits via the Florida Retirement System (FRS) Pension Plan, you will need to contact the division and request the appropriate QDRO forms. At the time your request is made, you must provide the member’s (your ex-spouse) name and Social Security number, the date of your divorce, and the date of your marriage. Next, forms must be completed in full and sent back to the division along with a copy of the final judgment of dissolution of marriage and your settlement agreement.
The division will review the forms. If approved, you will receive notice that the QDRO is conditionally approved. The next step is filing the QDRO with the court.
Note that when you file your QDRO, specific information must be included. At a minimum, the order should state that it applies to the plan participant and you (the alternate payee), include the name and address of both parties, specify the benefit that is to be paid to you, specify the manner of payment and when payments should commence, and contain a court-certified document.
What Happens If I Don’t Have a QDRO?
You may assume that because your divorce settlement and final judgment specify that you are entitled to a specific amount of your spouse’s retirement benefits, you will be paid this amount at the time that your spouse retires–or perhaps even immediately–without any issue. However, this is simply not the case. In fact, if your (ex-) spouse decides to retire before you have submitted the paperwork for a QDRO with the appropriate private or public entity and have had the QDRO approved and filed with the court, then the plan will pay all of the benefits to your ex.
The divorce judge who presides over your case is not responsible for contacting the private or public entity where benefits are held and instructing it to distribute benefits in a specific manner. This is your responsibility.
Contact Our Family Law Attorneys for More Information about QDROs in Florida
You may think that after you and your spouse have reached a determination about the division of property in a divorce, the process is finalized, and you have nothing left to do. However, without a QDRO (which you should obtain as soon as possible) you won’t be paid the retirement benefits you’re entitled to per your divorce settlement.
At the office of Crystal Collins Spencer, Attorney at Law, our Florida family law lawyers can help you to understand how QDROs are used, file a QDRO, and ensure that you get the benefits you are owed. To learn more about working with us and how we can help you, please call us today at (850) 912-8080 or contact us online to schedule a consultation.