A qualified domestic relations order
, pronounced "cue-dro" or "qua-dro"), is a judicial order in the United States, entered as part of a property division in a divorce or legal separation
that splits a retirement plan or pension plan
by recognizing joint marital ownership interests in the plan, specifically the former spouse's interest in that spouse's share of the asset. A QDRO's recognition of spousal ownership interest in a plan participant's (employee's) pension plan awards a portion of the plan participant's benefit to an alternate payee. An alternate payee must be a spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent of the plan participant. A QDRO may also be entered for spousal support or child support.
QDROs apply only to employee benefit or pension plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
(ERISA), the American federal law governing private sector
pensions. Comparable types of orders divide military retirement pay and Federal civil service retirement plans, and for State, county and municipal retirement plans in most States. A QDRO may provide for marital or community property division between the plan participant and the alternate payee, or for the payment of alimony or child support to the alternate payee.
QDROs must first be issued by a State-level domestic relations court, and are then reviewed by plan administrators for compliance with the terms of the plan and with ERISA or other applicable law
. The QDRO may be a separate document or it may be part of a divorce decree, and is valid as long as it meets the standards for a qualified
domestic relations order under ERISA and meets the standards of the plan to which it applies. Courts have jurisdiction to declare a QDRO "qualified" as comporting with federal law, but pension plan administrators must determine whether a QDRO meets the requirements of a specific pension plan.