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Retirement funds require precision when divided in divorce

People in Florida who have decided to divorce often find that the financial aspects of the end of a marriage are the most complex, outstripping the emotional and practical concerns. Given the fact that retirement accounts are frequently the largest asset held by a divorcing couple and the importance of these funds to both parties' future financial health, these accounts can be the source of particular contention. In a 2016 survey, 62 percent of divorce attorneys said that retirement accounts are the most difficult issue dealt with by their clients.

Retirement accounts are often governed by an array of financial and legal regulations and requirements that make precision in dealing with the distribution of assets necessary for more reasons than concern about reaching a settlement agreement. In fact, if the distribution of a retirement account in a divorce is handled improperly, both parties could pay a substantial sum of money in taxes, penalties and fees, and the outcome achieved may be inequitable.

When the retirement account in question is based at the workplace of one spouse, a court order called a qualified domestic relations order or QDRO is necessary in order to distribute the funds. While the content of the QDRO reflects the divorce agreement, it is not issued automatically as part of a divorce decree and must be requested from the court. Each retirement account that must be divided requires a separate QDRO of its own, and these orders are necessary for retirement accounts of all types, including 401(k) plans as well as traditional defined-benefit pension funds.

The QDRO may be drafted by the family law and divorce attorney who represented one spouse as part of the divorce. The lawyer may receive approval and issuance from the court and work with the retirement plan administration to ensure that the agreement reached for division of assets is carried out accurately and effectively.

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