In California, the process of divorce may include division of retirement funds. Navigating California and Federal retirement benefit law in the context of divorce is an enormous and growing challenge.
Having an attorney on your side to defend your legal rights in regards to retirement funds in divorce is in most cases essential.
However – one thing you should know in order to be your own personal client advocate is that in order to divide some retirement funds, the plan administrator must have a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) on file at the time that funds are to be disbursed (and some type of security lock prior to prevent the other spouse from making changes or liquidation of the account – i.e. a Joinder Order), or the funds will be disbursed to the spouse who originally earned the benefit.
In other words, even if you are divorced, and you have a Judgment or “Divorce Decree” – the relevant interests of the parties in a retirement plan subject to QDRO will NOT be carried out according to the divorce Judgment. So, for example, a stay at home parent who is divorced and was awarded by the court a one half interest in their spouse’s retirement plan, may assume that when their ex-spouse retires that the retirement plan administrator will automatically send half the money disbursements to them – however where the plan administrator requires a QDRO to divide the payments or benefit, the stay at home parent prior to divorce will NOT receive any benefits until a QDRO is properly prepared and served on the plan administrator.