I received part of my spouse’s pension in our divorce. How do I access it?

QDROsWhen dividing qualified retirement accounts in divorce, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) can direct dispersement of the account. There may be a big gap between the time of the divorce and retirement, however, and this can cause confusion. What happens to a QDRO upon retirement? Here’s a look at this common question.  


I was divorced in 1999 and I know I received half of my ex husband’s pension in the settlement. I just found out he retired six months ago and I have not received any kind of notice or payment. My ex and I are not on speaking terms. Do I have the legal right to check into the retirement account myself? How do I get the money?


In your divorce settlement, you should have a document called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). At the time of your divorce, when you both agreed to the terms of how to split the asset of the pension account, a QDRO would have been drawn up that stated the terms of the division and when and how monies would be dispersed. This document would have been approved by the retirement account administrator and a judge (creating a fully executed document), and then kept on file with the plan administrator.

Depending on your situation, your portion of the retirement may have been partitioned into its own account and you would have access to this as you would any kind of financial account in your name. If the pension was left in a single account, the QDRO would have still named you as an “alternate payee” which should give you some ability to communicate about the account.

If communicating with your ex about the pension is completely out of the question, contact the plan administrator directly. A fully executed QDRO is not just any old agreement. It’s actually a court order that must be complied with, or you can return to court to seek enforcement of the QDRO.

It’s also important for you to understand that your divorce decree may state that you have a right to part of your spouse’s retirement funds, but it is the QDRO that legally seals this claim. Mistakes with retirement accounts and QDROs are actually one of the top errors people make who do a DIY divorce. Look over your settlement documents carefully.

If you continue to have issues finding the answers to your questions, you can get in touch with a family law attorney to look over your original settlement and QDRO.

Learn More:

Divorce Horror Story: A Do-It-Yourself Divorce Gone Wrong [Retirement]

Gray Divorce: Splitting Your 401K & A Lifetime of Assets

Help Your Golden Years Stay Golden: Protecting Retirement Funds During Divorce

Do you have questions about retirement assets and divorce, and how to enforce your QDRO? We can help. Start safeguarding your future today by scheduling a consultation with one of our qualified family law attorneys. Call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the green button below. 

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