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Divorce can be a fresh start as well as an end to a major part of your life. You might think it shouldn't affect its terms if you eventually remarry, and you'd typically be right, particularly with regard to property settlement issues. This isn't always the case with retirement benefits, however.
Qualified Domestic Relations Orders
Qualified domestic relations orders, commonly referred to as QDROs, are legal instruments that allow a retirement plan administrator to pay out benefits to someone other than the individual who earned them. Federal law prohibits this unless a QDRO authorizes such payments. A QDRO is a separate document from your divorce decree or judgment, although your decree must order the QDRO before your ex-husband's retirement plan administrator will accept it. QDROs are necessary for transferring assets in 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, 457 plans, profit sharing plans, tax-sheltered annuities and private pensions. They're not typically necessary for IRAs or government retirement benefits.
Spouse's Property Entitlement
In most cases, a QDRO transfers a spouse's marital share of the other's pension. It's a method of property settlement. You're entitled to a share of your ex-husband's contributions from the date of your marriage through the date of your separation or divorce, provided those years overlap with his employment. Contributions made before you married or after your marriage ended don't count – you have no right to this money. Because this money represents distribution of a marital asset, your remarriage should not affect the QDRO or your right to these funds.
Occasionally, courts may order QDROs to provide for spousal or child support payments, particularly if the pension owner is older and this is his primary source of income. If the income you receive under the terms of a QDRO is alimony-related rather than a property settlement, it may be affected by your remarriage. QDROs that address alimony usually include specific language that terminates the support if the receiving spouse marries again. Likewise, if your QDRO provides for child support and your last child emancipates, QDRO payments typically end as well. If any portion of the benefits you receive relate to property settlement, however, this part should remain intact.
Survivor benefits may also fall outside of the scope of property distribution. If your QDRO specifically states that you receive survivor benefits upon the death of your ex-husband, you should continue to receive this money regardless of whether either you or your ex-husband remarry. If your ex remarries, however, his new wife won't receive survivor benefits in the event of his death. Your QDRO diverts this right to you. If your QDRO doesn't include this language, survivor benefits typically transfer to your ex-husband's new wife if he remarries.
- DivorceNet.com: Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs) in California
- United States Department of Labor: Frequently Asked Questions – QDROs
- USLegal: How Does Remarriage Affect a QDRO?
- Greensfelder Attorneys at Law: When Remarriage Muddies the Waters (PDF)
- Thomas McCormack: How Courts Treat Pension in Divorce – Part I
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images