QDROs and DROs

MA Pension and 401K QDRO Form Preparation for Divorce


Attorney Julia Rueschemeyer prepares all Massachusetts and Federal QDROs, DROs, and COAPs for dividing retirement plan accounts when couples divorce. In terms of public plans, she specializes in Massachusetts Teachers Retirement System (MTRS), Massachusetts State Employee Retirement System (MA SERS), and Boston Retirement Board DROs. She drafts QDRO documents for  401k, 403b, and 457b for any public or private employer. She also prepares DRO forms (COAPs) for Massachusetts residents who participate in the following federal retirement plans: Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS), Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), Civil Servant Retirement System (CSRS), Railroad Retirement Board, and military plans.


In order for me to draft your QDRO or DRO, you should:


1) Fill out and sent to me a) a  “QDRO Intake Questionnaire” (click here for .pdf version) and b) images or copies of specific pages of divorce case documents and retirement plan documents. The specific documents I need are identified in the “QDRO Intake Questionnaire.”

2) Fill out, sign, and send to me the  “QDRO Fee Agreement”, which is an agreement between you and me to do your QDRO.

3) Send payment of $500 by check, money order, or credit card. You can call me with your credit card information, if paying by credit card.


You can send these documents (or images of them) to me by any combination of these methods:


• Email[email protected]

• Fax: (413) 253-7484

• Mail: Attorney Julia Rueschemeyer, 409 Main St #126, Amherst, MA 01002


What is a QDRO or DRO?


A QDRO (‘qualified domestic relations order’, and pronounced ‘quadro’) is a court order to a retirement account administrator that tells the administrator how and when to divide retirement benefits such as a 401K between spouses who have divorced. A separation agreement between divorcing spouses that specifies how retirement accounts should be divided is not enough for a pension or retirement plan administrator to divide accounts or benefits. They will only divide retirement assets if they have a QDRO (or equivalent documents such as a DRO or COAP). The US Department of labor gives a good overview of QDROS here. The legal basis for a domestic relations order to count as “qualified” is laid out in federal law in the 1974 Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA). You can read the actual language in Section 206, which starts on p. 90 of the 461 page ERISA document.



What is the QDRO process?


Dividing retirement assets with a QDRO involves multiple steps.


  1. An attorney creates a draft of the QDRO, based on the division of retirement assets specified in the divorce agreement, making sure to include the information and format that your retirement plan requires. Different retirement plans have different requirements for information and format.
  2. If your plan does “pre-approvals” of QDRO’s, you or your attorney submits the draft QDRO to make sure it conforms to their requirements. If you skip this step, your QDRO may be rejected at Step 5, below, and Steps 3-5 will have to be repeated.
  3. Submit your pre-approved QDRO to the court where you divorced along with a jointly assented to motion form.
  4. Receive the QDRO back from the court, after the court has signed and certified it.
  5. Send the signed and certified QDRO to the retirement plan administrator and confirm that the retirement plan administrator has received it.
  6. Once confirmed, send the pension plan administrator information about the alternate payee (ex-spouse) and the account where the administrator should deposit the alternate payee’s share of the money.



Who needs a QDRO?


You need a QDRO to divide a pension or retirement accounts such as 401k’s, 403b’s, 457’s, and Thrift Savings Plans. You do NOT need a QDRO to divide an IRA—the spouses themselves are the administrators of their IRA’s, so they can divide their IRA’s according to the terms of their divorce agreement without a QDRO. You do NOT need a QDRO if you are sharing a pension by using a present value calculation and buying out the non-participant spouse at the time of divorce (“immediate offset method”).



How much does a QDRO cost?


Attorney Rueschemeyer charges $500 to complete the first 3 steps of the QDRO process. This  leaves you the easy steps of a) receiving the signed and certified QDRO from the court,  b) mailing it to the retirement plan administrator, and c) giving the retirement plan information about the alternate payee and where to deposit the money when it is divided.


If you are comparing QDRO preparation prices, be sure to compare how many steps of the QDRO Process are included. Many QDRO preparers only do Step 1. If a QDRO preparer only does Step 1, you are left in a position where you don’t know if the QDRO will be acceptable to the retirement plan. You can go to considerable time and expense to get the QDRO signed and certified by the court, and then have it rejected by the plan administrator, in which case you have to start all over again.  If the QDRO preparer only drafts the QDRO and gets pre-approval,  then you have to hire another lawyer to do the court motion or figure out how to file a court motion on your own.


Sample QDRO forms for defined benefit (traditional pension) and defined contribution (401k’s, 403b’s, etc.) plans


There are many thousands of retirement plans in the United States, and thousands of different forms and specifications for the QDRO’s or DRO’s that particular pension administrators will accept. Below, you can download 3 sample forms, two of which illustrate ways of dividing defined benefit plans (traditional pensions) and the other of which illustrates several ways of dividing a defined contribution plan (401k’s and similar plan). The way you divide retirement accounts in divorce depends on the type of retirement plan, as explained and illustrated with an infographic at division of marital property in divorce.


The first sample QDRO form for a traditional pension illustrates language for sharing monthly pension benefits when the dollar amount of those benefits has already been determined (e.g., the pension participant has already left service and is not accruing additional pension credits). In this example, the language under Section 6 AWARD OF ALTERNATE PAYEE’S INTEREST, specifies that the non-participant spouse is awarded either a specific dollar amount or a percentage of each benefit payment. For pensions with COLA’s (cost-of-living-adjustments), specifying a percentage assures that the alternate payee shares in the increased benefits over time.


The second sample QDRO form for a pension gives an example of language for dividing future pension payments. This QRO is drafted while the participant is still working and  accruing pension credits. This formulation allows a pension administrator to determine an alternate payee’s share of each pension benefit payment even if the pension participant continued to work for many years after divorce, accruing an ever larger pension. The key language in this example is in Section 6 AWARD OF ALTERNATE PAYEE’S INTEREST, which specifies the formula that the pension administrator should use in calculating the percentage of the total pension benefit that should go to the alternate payee versus the percentage of the total benefit that should go to the participant. The pension administrator must divide the number of pension credits earned during marriage by the total number of pension credits earned by the participant, yielding a marital portion of the total pension, i.e., the fraction of the percentage that belongs to the marriage. In many cases, this marital portion of the pension is then divided 50-50 between the (ex-)spouses.


The third sample QDRO form 401k-type shows language for several different ways of dividing a 401k-type (“defined contribution”) plan. In Section 3, Amount of Alternate Payee’s Benefit, this QDRO template illustrates language for 4 different ways of dividing a 401k-type pension savings plan. The differences in these ways have to do with two variables: whether 1) the alternate payee receives a percentage or a specific dollar amount of the 401k balance, and 2) whether or not the amount of money specified in 1) is adjusted for gains or losses in the account that occur between the date of the agreement and the date that the money is actually transferred to the alternate payee.