Like any other asset, retirement accounts must be divided. Essentially any retirement benefits acquired or vested during the marriage belong to the community. This means that benefits acquired before the marriage are considered separate. The only issue to be determined is when the benefits vested. This is typically readily determined by contacting the plan administrator or going over the statements associated with the benefits.
In order to divide retirement benefits, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) must be filed with the court and then forwarded to the plan administrator. Most plans will have their own form of QDRO. The administrator’s requirements must be followed exactly or the Order will be refused. This can be a rather tedious process as some plan administrators require the Order be filed and signed by the judge before they will review it to determine whether it meets their requirements. If it is refused, the QDRO must be modified and refiled with the Court. Then the QDRO must be resubmitted to the administrator beginning the cycle anew.
The process is made more complicated when the parties cannot agree on the terms to be put in the QDRO. On occasion, the Court’s intervention and direction is required. Yet even then, the QDRO may take a couple of submissions and modifications prior to approval by the Plan Administrator and final division of the benefits between the parties.