Retirement Plan Participant Notices - Domestic Relations Orders That Affect Benefits


A divorce, separation, or other domestic relations proceeding may result in an order or decree that divides a participant’s retirement plan benefit between the participant and an alternate payee. An alternate payee may be the participant’s spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent. These orders are commonly referred to as DROs, domestic relations orders; a QDRO, or qualified domestic relations order, is a DRO that meets the requirements under ERISA to allow the plan administrator to divide the participant’s benefit. For information on what a QDRO must contain, see:

QDRO Procedures

The plan administrator is required to pay benefits in accordance with any qualified domestic relations order. The plan must have written procedures in place for determining if an order is a qualified domestic relations order. The procedures should contain specific steps to be followed in determining if and how the benefit will be split. The procedures should generally include:
  • who will review the domestic relations order;
  • who will notify the participant and alternate payee regarding the DRO;
  • whether the participant's benefit will be frozen while the DRO is reviewed;
  • when notices should be sent to the participant and alternate payee; and
  • steps to be taken by the plan to ensure that the benefit is split properly between the participant and alternate payee.

Notice of QDRO Procedures

Description: The plan administrator must promptly notify the affected participant and alternate payee that a domestic relations order has been received and must provide a copy of the plan's procedures for determining whether the order meets the requirements for a QDRO.

What it should contain: The notice should include a copy of the plan's procedures for determining whether a domestic relations order is a QDRO. A sample QDRO is often provided to a plan participant and alternate payee when the plan receives a DRO. The sample QDRO is used to illustrate the information required to turn the DRO into a QDRO, which enables the benefit to be split.

The QDRO is required by statute to contain certain information, generally including:

  • the name and last known mailing address for the participant and alternate payee;
  • the amount or percentage of the participant's benefit to be paid to the alternate payee;
  • the number of payments or period of time over which payments are to be made to the alternate payee; and
  • the name of the plan.

Timing: The plan administrator should provide this information to the participant and alternate payee upon receiving a DRO from either the participant or alternate payee.

Who is responsible for sending it: The administrator of the plan.

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