In 1984, Congress passed the Retirement Equity Act (REA), which amended the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The 1984 amendment confirmed that state courts had the power to enter orders dividing pension and retirement plans governed by ERISA. The REA was therefore instrumental is allowing state courts to issue Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) in conjunction with Decrees for Dissolution of Marriage and Legal Separation. Since 1984, with the ongoing development of plan administrators and their teams of ERISA experts, who formulated basic requirements for approval of Qualified Domestic Relations Orders, and with the explosion of the internet, it has become relatively easy to obtain a “preferred form of order" online for a many retirement plans.
Given the availability of these free forms, many people wonder why they need to hire a QDRO expert to prepare their orders, especially since this process generally occurs at the end of the dissolution or legal separation, when the parties are emotionally and financially exhausted, and anxious to put their legal issues behind them. However, it is important to realize that any generic legal form, whether for a QDRO, or any other purpose, is only a starting point. It is not prepared with you and your specific criteria in mind. It simply meets the minimum criteria necessary under ERISA, as amended by the REA, and the particular plan and nothing more. In many cases, retirement and pension plans represent a significant portion of the parties’ assets. Therefore, it is important to understand that the forms you find online are probably not optimal for your particular situation. Utilizing the services of a QDRO expert will help insure that you get the full range of plan benefits you are entitled to. An experienced QDRO attorney understands how to modify the standardized form of orders, so that inapplicable provisions are deleted, and other provisions are included, therefore complying with the provisions in the Decree of Dissolution of Marriage or Legal Separation, while still conforming with the requirements of ERISA and the particular plan’s administrative requirements.
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