Annapolis Marital Property Division Lawyer

What you need to know about QDROs

patrickcrawford | August 10, 2020

Dividing property in a Maryland divorce is especially complex when you have retirement savings and benefits. It is important to have the help of an attorney who handles qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs) in Annapolis if you need to divide retirement accounts.


Divorce can be stressful and emotionally draining, and then you add the legal requirements on top of everything. One requirement is that spouses must divide all of their assets and property in an equitable manner before a divorce can be finalized. In some situations, property division can be relatively straightforward, though certain factors can make it significantly more complicated. One factor is when a couple has retirement savings or benefits to divide, as this can require a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO)


If you are facing divorce and you have retirement accounts, you need the help of an experienced Annapolis qualified domestic relations order attorney. The following are some questions about QDROs that we hear at the Law Office of Patrick Crawford. To discuss your specific situation, please contact us directly. 

What is a QDRO?

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is a court order issued to divide up retirement plan benefits between two ex-spouses following a divorce. The QDRO provides detailed instructions for how a plan administrator will have to divide payments between the former spouses once the account holder qualifies for distributions. The QDRO can also give a former spouse death benefits if the account holder passes away first. Initially a Domestic Order, this becomes a Qualified Domestic Relations Order when the retirement plan administrator accepts and processes it.


Having a QDRO in place finalizes retirement account distributions following a divorce. The retirement plan participant can ensure that their former spouse only gets a share of what was earned and contributed during the marriage. The non-employee spouse can know for certain the amount of distributions they will receive, which can help plan for the future financially. 


A QDRO also allows for funds to pass directly from the plan administrator to the non-employee spouse. This means that one former spouse does not have to rely on the other to make payments. This can eliminate the need for enforcement efforts down the line, possibly years following a divorce case. Knowing you have a fair QDRO in place can give you peace of mind in many ways. 

Are You Required to have a QDRO?

If you and/or your divorcing spouse have retirement or pension plans, the short answer to this question is yes – you must have a QDRO issued by the court. Federal law only permits retirement benefits to be distributed to former spouses through this type of order, as many state orders might not meet the requirements under federal law. This order also helps to ensure that the IRS will not penalize distributions from the account under the QDRO directives.

What Types of Accounts Qualify for QDROs?

Not every type of retirement account or fund can be subject to the directives of a QDRO. This type of order can only apply to funds governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which include employer-sponsored plans such as:


  • 401(k) plans
  • 403(b) plans
  • 457 plans
  • Employee stock ownership plans
  • Profit-sharing plans
  • Tax-sheltered annuities
  • Money purchase plans


Plans sponsored by the government or military do not qualify for QDROs, though these plans have their own mechanisms and specific court orders for dividing funds between former spouses. If you or your spouse has a retirement plan that is not covered under ERISA, you can set out how the funds should be divided in your divorce property division settlement agreement. 

Do You Have to Divide Retirement Savings?

Maryland is an equitable distribution state when it comes to property division in a divorce. This means that all marital property should be divided in a fair and equitable manner, while each spouse keeps their separate property. Many people believe that because a retirement plan or account is only in their name, this will be separate property. This is not the case, however.


Retirement savings are based on your income, and income earned during the marriage by either spouse is considered to be marital property. If you had not contributed certain amounts of income into a retirement plan, it would have gone to the benefit of the marriage and household, so these savings are divided as marital property. 


Equitable division does not mean everything is split 50/50, however, and how you handle retirement plans will also depend on the total circumstances of your marital property and divorce judgment. For example, one spouse might forgo a share of retirement savings in exchange for getting the family home or other property. If both spouses have retirement accounts, they might agree to each keep their own. The solution will vary depending on your specific circumstances, and if you decide not to divide any retirement funds, you will not need a QDRO.

What are QDRO Requirements?

A QDRO must be in compliance with guidelines under ERISA and the U.S. Tax Code. Some specific requirements include:


  • Names and last-known addresses of each spouse
  • Name of the pension or retirement plan in question
  • The percentage or dollar amount that the non-employee spouse should receive
  • The time frame for payments or number of payments to be made under the order


The QDRO must also follow the rules of the plan itself, as the Order cannot contain instructions that are inconsistent with the policies of the plan. For example, if a plan has a policy against lump-sum payments, the QDRO should not order the non-employee spouse to receive a lump-sum payment. 

Should You Seek a QDRO During or After the Divorce Process?

While you can seek a QDRO following a divorce, it is often best to handle this process as part of the divorce process. First and foremost, it can be preferable to have everything as settled as possible so you can move forward with your life post-divorce without knowing there are additional steps to take. The following are some additional reasons why you might not want to wait to obtain a QDRO:



  • Losing records – Many institutions only keep records for up to seven years or so, and it might be difficult to obtain records of accounts and income during the marriage to show what funds you are entitled to.
  • The employee-spouse might borrow or withdraw money from the account – If this happens and you do not have a QDRO in place, the amount you can receive can decrease substantially.
  • The employee-spouse might retire or pass away – If either of these events happens without a QDRO, it can be very challenging or impossible to receive the funds you deserve. 



It is important to have a divorce attorney who can handle all issues relating to QDROs during the divorce case. This can protect your rights and give you peace of mind for the future.

Speak with Our Annapolis Qualified Domestic Relations Order Attorneys

The Law Office of Patrick Crawford is a full-service divorce law firm that handles every aspect of even the most complex divorce cases, including QDROs. To learn more about our Annapolis Qualified Domestic Relations Order lawyers, please do not hesitate to call (410) 216-7905 or contact us online to set up a consultation.


Patrick Crawford

Patrick is an Annapolis Family Lawyer dedicated to helping you through the most complex and emotional family law matters. During his career, Patrick has successfully represented countless people in divorce, child custody, child support, domestic violence and other family law cases of diverse complexity.

Years of experience: 20+ years.
Maryland Registration Status: Active and authorized to practice law.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney Patrick Crawford, who has more than 16 years of legal experience practicing family law.