Do we have to be divorced for me to get my husband’s pension?


Q. I placed a hold or QRDO on my husband’s pension. We have been separated for 13 years. It is my understanding that we cannot split the pension unless we are divorced even though we agreed to split it. Is that correct?
— Confused

A. That’s not correct.

Ultimately, the language of the particular pension plan will dictate how and when the pension benefits may be distributed.

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is the vehicle, through court order, that directs the plan administrator how to distribute some or all of the retirement plan’s benefits to a spouse or former spouse, said Kenneth White, a certified matrimonial attorney with Shane and White in Edison.

“Specifically, under federal law, most employer-sponsored retirement plans require a QDRO in order to divide retirement benefits between individuals,” White said. “While a QDRO is most often used to divide a retirement plan such as a pension between couples who are divorcing, the law does not require a divorce in order to make use of a QDRO.”

He said for your specific case you should review all your relevant paperwork with an experienced family law attorney.

You said you “placed a hold or QDRO” on your husband’s pension. How you did this will be very relevant, he said.

“For example, if you filed a QDRO at the time of your separation and the same was forwarded to and accepted by the plan administrator, when the pension goes into pay status you should begin to receive the share apportioned to you,” he said. “However, if you simply `placed a hold’ on the pension it will likely be more complicated, as ultimately, the use of a QDRO will be necessary to assure you receive your fair share of the benefits.”

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This story was originally published on April 9, 2021. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.

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