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What happens to a 401(k) in divorce?

On Behalf of | Aug 28, 2023 | Divorce |

Divorce often leads to financial complexities, and among the most common issues is the division of retirement assets, such as a 401(k). When both parties don’t have retirement accounts of their own that are similar in value, splitting this retirement account can be a particularly delicate matter. 

Understanding the role of a qualified domestic relations order is essential in this scenario. 

What is a QDRO, and why is it important?

A QDRO is a legal document specifying how retirement benefits are divided between divorcing spouses. It provides a legal way to transfer retirement account funds to the non-owner spouse without worrying about penalties that would occur without the order. 

The QDRO must include specific information, including the division method and the distribution type. The account can be divided using a percentage method or the QDRO can require a specific dollar amount to be transferred. It’s possible to have a lump-sum, one-time transfer or regularly occurring transfers. It must also have information about the account owner and where the funds will go. 

The plan administrator’s role in approving the QDRO

Approval from the plan administrator is crucial for the QDRO to take effect. Without their consent, the QDRO can be sent back for revision, causing potential delays in the divorce proceedings. The order can’t require anything that’s not allowed by the plan.

Dividing a 401(k) in a divorce is not a straightforward process, especially when there are disparities in retirement assets between the parties. Working with someone familiar with the retirement account division can help individuals to navigate these complexities and ensure a fair distribution of retirement assets.