Good deal. First off, a "qualified domestic relation order" (QDRO) is a domestic relations order that creates or 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, and that includes certain information and meets certain other requirements. It is an order that exists under the federal ERISA laws.
A state authority, generally a court, must actually issue a judgment, order, or decree or otherwise formally approve a property settlement agreement before it can be a domestic relations order under ERISA. The mere fact that a property settlement is agreed to and signed by the parties will not, in and of itself, cause the agreement to be a domestic relations order.
There is no requirement that both parties to a marital proceeding sign or otherwise endorse or approve an order. It is also not necessary that the retirement plan be brought into state court or made a party to a domestic relations proceeding for an order issued in that proceeding to be a domestic relations order or a qualified domestic relations order. Indeed, because state law is generally preempted to the extent that it relates to retirement plans, the Department takes the position that retirement plans cannot be joined as a party in a domestic relations proceeding pursuant to state law. Moreover, retirement plans are neither permitted nor required to follow the terms of domestic relations orders purporting to assign retirement benefits unless they are QDROs.
A domestic relations order may be issued by any state agency or instrumentality with the authority to issue judgments, decrees, or orders, or to approve property settlement agreements, pursuant to state domestic relations law (including community property law).
A domestic relations order can be a QDRO only if it creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee's right to receive, or assigns to an alternate payee the right to receive, all or a part of a participant's benefits. For purposes of the QDRO provisions, an alternate payee cannot be anyone other than a spouse, former spouse, child, or other dependent of a participant.
QDROs must contain the following information:
- The name and last known mailing address of the participant and each alternate payee
- The name of each plan to which the order applies
- The dollar amount or percentage (or the method of determining the amount or percentage) of the benefit to be paid to the alternate payee
- The number of payments or time period to which the order applies
There is nothing in ERISA or the Code that requires that a QDRO (that is, the provisions that create or recognize an alternate payee's interest in a participant's retirement benefits) be issued as a separate judgment, decree, or order. Accordingly, a QDRO may be included as part of a divorce decree or court-approved property settlement, or issued as a separate order, without affecting its qualified status.
There are certain provisions that a QDRO must not contain:
- The order must not require a plan to provide an alternate payee or participant with any type or form of benefit, or any option, not otherwise provided under the plan
- The order must not require a plan to provide for increased benefits (determined on the basis of actuarial value)
- The order must not require a plan to pay benefits to an alternate payee that are required to be paid to another alternate payee under another order previously determined to be a QDRO
- The order must not require a plan to pay benefits to an alternate payee in the form of a qualified joint and survivor annuity for the lives of the alternate payee and his or her subsequent spouse
Under Federal law, the administrator of the retirement plan that provides the benefits affected by an order is the individual (or entity) initially responsible for determining whether a domestic relations order is a QDRO. Plan administrators have specific responsibilities and duties with respect to determining whether a domestic relations order is a QDRO. Plan administrators, as plan fiduciaries, are required to discharge their duties prudently and solely in the interest of plan participants and beneficiaries. Among other things, plans must establish reasonable procedures to determine the qualified status of domestic relations orders and to administer distributions pursuant to qualified orders. Administrators are required to follow the plan's procedures for making QDRO determinations. Administrators also are required to furnish notice to participants and alternate payees of the receipt of a domestic relations order and to furnish a copy of the plan's procedures for determining the qualified status of such orders.
It is the view of the Department of Labor that a state court (or other state agency or instrumentality with the authority to issue domestic relations orders) does not have jurisdiction to determine whether an issued domestic relations order constitutes a qualified domestic relations order. In the view of the Department, jurisdiction to challenge a plan administrator's decision about the qualified status of an order lies exclusively in Federal court.
So, based on what you have shared with me, take a look at your divorce decree...if it contains all of what is required and does not contain which should not be in the order, then what you have turned in should qualify you. If the pension administrator will not honor it, you can either sue them to force them to recognize it or you can go back to the court that handled the divorce and have them issue a new order which complies with what the plan administrator tells you that you need that is different.
Again, it sounds like you are dealing with someone that may not be aware of what they are doing. Point out these facts as they pertain to ERISA and maybe they will reconsider in view of what you have already turned over to them.
Let me know if you have any other questions or comments. Please also rate my answer positively (THREE or MORE STARS).