SUPPORT AND SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE
QDROS AND FAMILY LAW
COLLECTING CHILD SUPPORT AND MAINTENANCE
The article, by Michael P. Boulette, is aimed at lawyers, but you can mine it for useful information about the legal tool called the Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A Qualified Domestic Relations Order is a Court order that authorizes the administrator of a retirement plan that is governed by ERISA to distribute monies from the plan to an ex-spouse.
As the article points out, QDROs have usually been used for transferring retirement assets form one party to another during divorce proceedings. However, there are a number of divorces in which the parties are under considerable financial stress: “Nearly every attorney who practices in family court has at least one war story of a truly recalcitrant obligor: a party ordered to pay child support or spousal maintenance who proceeds to treat his or her obligation as anathema. Payments are missed, former spouses and children go without and in the more dire cases, homes may be lost and bankruptcy contemplated…”
QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDER (QDRO)
“Since the 2008 economic downturn, collecting child support and spousal maintenance has posed an ever greater challenge… being able to tap into an obligors 401(k) may provide a client with faster access to cash than more punitive enforcement measures (such as contempt or license suspension)…” I think this is important – the QDRO is LESS punitive. It impacts retirement income which can have less felt impact
than other means of collecting child support and spousal maintenance (alimony). A person adjudicated to be in contempt of court might face jail time. License suspension, forfeiture of passport, forfeiture of tax refund can be imposed to pressure the obligor.
“As family law attorneys need to become increasingly creative to enforce maintenance and support obligations, the QDRO should not be overlooked as a cost-effective means for satisfying arrearages and securing
ongoing support. Although QDROs always contain traps for the unwary, if prepared and used properly they can be an effective tool for ensuring payment.”
Many judges may be reluctant to impose relief for non-payment of support by invading a retirement asset that was distributed during the divorce. However, the invasion of a retirement plan for non-payment of support is specifically authorized by statute, and family law attorneys should be prepared to educate the bench on the availability of this tool for the satisfaction of unpaid support obligations.