- How does QDRO work in Texas?
- How is a QDRO calculated?
- Can courts in Texas divide retirement plans?
- What types of plans does a QDRO cover?
- How to file a QDRO in Texas
- How long and limits
- How much does a QDRO cost?
A qualified domestic relations order (or QDRO) splits retirement plan benefits. You can use this document during your divorce to get your fair share of the money earned during your marriage.
QDROs are legal documents that permanently shift ownership from one spouse to another. You can use the funds to pay child support or spousal support, or they may be part of your general compensation package determined during your divorce.
Some people determine the value of retirement accounts and leave them intact during a divorce. You might keep the house, for example, and your ex might keep the entire 401(k) amount.
But you will need a QDRO if you want to split retirement accounts that stem from work done in the private sector or the Employees Retirement System of Texas.
How does a QDRO work in Texas?
All states have provisions for QDROs. Retirement accounts often represent the bulk of a couple's wealth, and if you've been married for a long time, you've likely invested heavily in this asset. Splitting your money is an important part of your divorce.
In Texas, a QDRO gives a spouse an equitable percentage of the current value of a retirement account. Couples follow a few basic steps, including these:
- Drafting documents
- Agreeing to terms
- Bringing forms to court
- Delivering authorized forms to the account manager
Whether the retirement account is part of the Employees Retirement System of Texas or from a private organization, the QDRO works in much the same way. But every company can have slightly different preferred QDRO forms. That’s legal, but it can make drafting the document difficult.
How is a QDRO in Texas calculated?
Texas is a community property state, meaning that assets acquired during the marriage belong to both parties and should be split fairly during the divorce. A QDRO makes this possible.
Finding a fair mix means determining the following:
- How much was the account worth before the marriage?
- How much was contributed during the marriage?
Contributions made during marriage are community property per Texas law. Both parties have equal rights to it. Some people split this amount down the middle, while others find a different model that’s right for them. You might take a smaller debt load in return for a smaller share of the total amount, for example.
Can courts in Texas divide retirement plans?
Texas law says community property should be divided in a manner that is “just and right,” but that doesn’t always mean splitting values in half. People are encouraged to collaborate and determine what split seems right to them.
One party can’t shield a retirement plan from the other. Retirement accounts are community property and subject to Texas law. You must agree on what to do with this important asset. Mediation can help you find a path forward if you can’t decide together. If you cannot agree, Texas courts will likely split up retirement account(s) so that each spouse gets an equal amount.
Suggested: A Beginner's Guide to Divorce Mediation
What types of plans does a QDRO cover?
Retirement accounts covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) require QDROs. In general, if someone's retirement stems from work done in the private sector or state government, it's part of ERISA.
Plans that typically need a QDRO include the following:
- Employee stock ownership plans (ESOP)
- Profit-sharing plans
- Simplified employee pension plans
Individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and federal government pension plans are typically not covered by a QDRO.
How to file a QDRO in Texas
While a QDRO is part of a divorce, you must have the paperwork prepared before you go to court. The judge will sign your document when you finish your divorce.
Step 1: Find your QDRO template
Contact the retirement account's plan administrator, and ask for a sample QDRO form. Each organization has slightly different preferences. It's best to work with them now so you don't have to start again when they reject your form.
Step 2: Contact a lawyer
Ask a legal professional with experience in QDROs to help you agree to the terms and fill out the form.
Step 3: Bring your form to your divorce hearing
Texas requires most couples to go to court to finish the divorce process. Bring your agreed-upon form to the hearing so your judge can sign it.
Step 4: Bring your signed form to the clerk
Some organizations, including the Employees Retirement System of Texas, require a clerk's stamp and signature on QDROs. Bring your signed copy to the clerk in the courthouse processing your divorce, and ask the clerk to stamp, sign, and date the form.
Step 5: Deliver the form to the plan administrator
When your form is signed, stamped, and official, bring it to the plan administrator. The organization will review the details and prepare to split your account.
Timing: How long and limits
Preparing a QDRO typically takes a few weeks to a few months. Collaboration with your ex can shorten this timeframe. The more you argue with your ex, the longer the process will take, and the more it will cost you both.
Even with a QDRO, you won't get funds right away. For example, the Employees Retirement System of Texas can't release funds if employees are still working within the system. You may need to wait years to get your money.
In theory, you can draft a QDRO at any point, including after your divorce. No formal time limits exist. But the longer you wait, the less likely it is that a judge will agree to split assets. It’s best to take this step early in the divorce process.
How much does a Texas QDRO cost?
Attorneys charge between $400 and $900 to prepare a QDRO and may charge more if the process is long. Collaborating can save you both money and hassle, so it’s worth it to find points of agreement with your spouse.
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ReferencesRetirement Topics, QDRO, Qualified Domestic Relations Order. (September 2022). Internal Revenue Service.
Dividing Retirement Benefits Upon Divorce. (January 2023). TexasLawHelp.org.
Dividing Your Property and Debt in a Divorce. (January 2023). TexasLawHelp.org.
Types of Retirement Plans. U.S. Department of Labor.
Qualified Domestic Relations Order. Employees Retirement System of Texas.