A Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO (pronounced QUADroh), allows a non-employee spouse to receive his or her share of a pension benefit plan provided to the employee-spouse upon the divorce of the spouses. QDRO is part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), a federal law governing pension plans.
In California, a spouse’s employment earnings and benefits are community property. Often, one of those benefits is participation in a pension plan. If the employee-spouse participates in the pension plan during the marriage that portion of the pension plan is community property as well. Upon the divorce of the parties, community property is divided equally, and the non-employee spouse is entitled to his/her 50 percent interest in that portion of the pension plan.
QDROs are extremely technical, and because they also include third parties (i.e., the pension plan administrator), they should only be created by a qualified expert in the field of family law domestic relations orders. Further, QDROs under ERISA only cover private pension plans. They do not cover federal, state or local pension plans. Other laws cover government pension programs, but again, because they are extremely technical, they should only be created by a qualified expert in the field of family law domestic relations orders.