Guide to QDROs in New York

QDRO stands for qualified domestic relations order. In the case of divorce, it is a recognition that one party should be treated as a payee of a retirement plan’s benefits. Depending on the specifics, a QDRO can allow a divorced party some or all of a retirement plan’s payout. 

QDROs are for retirement plans only. Not all sources of monthly income will necessarily be split between a person and their ex, even if their ex wants part of that payment. 

How does a QDRO work in New York?

Much of how a QDRO works in New York is standard. A QDRO only goes into effect after a state authority formally issues a judgment, order, or decree or otherwise formally approves a property settlement agreement. It is not enough to simply believe you are owed part of a retirement plan’s payout. Even if you’re in the legal right, you must first get a QDRO.

How is a QDRO calculated in New York?

In New York, retirement benefits acquired during a marriage are considered marital property. As such, these benefits are subject to an equitable split in the event of a divorce.

When it comes to the division of assets in divorce, New York is an equitable distribution state. Learn more about what this means here.

In the event a person has multiple retirement plans, the split of benefits won’t necessarily be equal across each plan. Each valid retirement plan would be split on the individual merits of the plan. 

Can the courts divide retirement plans?

A court can divide retirement plans if you or your ex successfully seek a QDRO for those plans. It is fairly common for such an order to be successful, assuming you acquired the benefits during your marriage. Notably, the process will take time.

What types of plans does a QDRO cover in New York?

In New York, most common types of retirement plans can get covered in a QDRO, including the following:

  • 401(k)
  • 403(b)
  • 457
  • Defined benefit monthly payments

What are the steps for filing a QDRO in New York?

The following is a step-by-step process for filing a QDRO. 

Step 1: Gather information

You need a thorough collection of information to get a QDRO. This includes both your and your ex-spouse’s names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, date of marriage, and date of divorce. You will also need your divorce decree, which establishes the portion of marital assets you’re supposed to receive. 

This information will generally be given to a professional firm capable of handling QDROs. The firm will use it to draft a strong QDRO. 

Step 2: Draft

Either you or a legal professional will need to draft a QDRO using the information gathered. This is a precise process that impacts whether your QDRO eventually gets signed and certified. As such, it must be handled with care. 

If you intend to draft a QDRO yourself, make sure you research the specific language of these documents and thoroughly check your draft. If you get a draft made by another party, like a legal professional, make sure you still read it and check it for accuracy. Ask any questions about it that you may have.

Step 3: Get approval from your ex

Ideally, you will want your QDRO draft to get official approval from your ex-spouse or their legal representation. Often, this is a straightforward process since the divorce has already gone through. They only need to verify that the information in the document is accurate. If they are resistant, a QDRO can still go through, but it is more complicated.

Step 4: Get the plan’s approval of the draft 

Next, a draft of the QDRO must be sent to the appropriate retirement or pension plan for approval. This is necessary so the plan can pay out in accordance with the QDRO.

The plan may request changes in the wording of your QDRO, as specific language is often required. This is standard, and these modifications typically aren’t intended to change the actual amounts being paid.

Step 5: Get signatures

A QDRO requires several signatures, including those from all involved parties. Sometimes, a party refuses to provide their signature. Although this complicates the process, their signature may not be necessary in the long run. But if a QDRO is contested, additional legal steps may become necessary. 

Step 6: Obtain a certified copy

Finally, the QDRO needs to be presented in your state divorce or family court for signature by a judge. It’s important to obtain a copy that has been signed and officially certified. Why? A certified copy bears the original signature and seal of the clerk of the court. You could get one at a later date if you needed to, but the process would be more difficult.

Step 7: Get final acceptance

Once a QDRO has been certified, it still needs to be fully approved. This process doesn’t typically take very long. If there were a major issue, it likely wouldn’t have been signed and certified in the first place.

Read: What Is the New York Divorce Process?


Am I entitled to retirement benefits my spouse earned before we got married?

Retirement benefits acquired during a marriage are considered marital property, but benefits acquired before a marriage may not be eligible for a QDRO. If a court finds something to be someone’s individual property in New York rather than marital property, it most likely cannot be split.

How long does it take to get a QDRO?

The QDRO process can move relatively quickly, taking only a few weeks. However, it may take significantly longer if a party is resistant to the process and wants to contest certain elements of the QDRO. 

Once the QDRO is submitted appropriately and approved, however, most people start receiving payments within a few weeks.

Is there a time limit for a QDRO?

There is no set time limit for filing a QDRO in New York, although experts generally recommend drafting and filing in a timely manner. This prevents confusion and makes it clear that you believe you are owed money. 

As time progresses, details can blur. As a result, it can become more legally difficult to successfully get a QDRO through.

How much will this process cost?

The cost of getting documents drafted and submitted depends on the services used, but you can generally expect QDROs to cost $700 to $800. It’s a complex enough process that it can be difficult to do without some type of legal help, at least for the initial drafting. The final cost depends on the amount of legal assistance you might need as well as the individual whom you hire for help.

Suggested: Guide to Alimony Calculations in New York


FAQs about Qualified Domestic Relations Orders. U.S. Department of Labor. 
The Domestic Relations Order. Office of New York.