Qualified Domestic Relations Order QDRO Law and Legal Definition

A qualified domestic relation order (QDRO) is a court order in a domestic relations case that orders pension or retirement plan benefits to be used to provide alimony or child support, or to divide marital property in a divorce. ERISA is the primary federal law governing pension plans of employers. ERISA was amended in 1984 by the Retirement Equity Act. One of the provisions of the 1984 amendment created an exception to ERISA's preemption provisions for a qualified domestic relations order. ERISA defines a QDRO as a domestic relations order that creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee's right to receive, or assigns to an alternate payee the right to receive, all or a portion of the benefits payable with respect to a participant under a pension plan, and that includes certain information and meets certain other requirements. Under federal law, the administrator of the pension plan that provides the benefits affected by an order is the individual (or entity) initially responsible for determining whether a domestic relations order is a QDRO.

Among other requirements, ERISA specifies the a QDRO must contain all of the following information:

  • The name and last known mailing address of the participant and each alternate payee
  • The name of each plan to which the order applies
  • The dollar amount or percentage (or the method of determining the amount or percentage) of the benefit to be paid to the alternate payee
  • The number of payments or time period to which the order applies