Doing the QDRO Shuffle

Here’s a great opinion, out of the United States District Court for the District of Rhode Island, on QDROs, their statutory basis, their purpose, and how they should be structured. Notably, the court weighs in in a very sensible manner on the never ending question of whether, under ERISA, the divorce decree at issue must comply exactly with the requirements imposed by ERISA to qualify as a QDRO or whether instead, as in horse shoes, close enough counts. In this circuit, close enough is usually good enough, and courts tend to enforce the divorce decree so long as the court is convinced it can accurately ascertain the intent and purpose of the agreement from the decree, regardless of whether the exact detailed requirements that ERISA imposes to qualify as a QDRO have been met. This opinion comes closer than those to requiring close compliance with the specific requirements of the statute, but allows variance from them subject to a certain principled guidance - namely, whether the variance does not affect the plan administrator’s ability to determine to whom and in what amount to pay plan proceeds. If so, then the requirements should be considered to have been met in substance and the order in question deemed a QDRO for these purposes.

Beyond this aspect of the opinion, one of its most notable features is simply its nice exposition of exactly what a QDRO needs to contain. Exactly what needs to be contained in a divorce document to qualify as a QDRO seems to be a constant source of confusion for people who are not ERISA lawyers but who have to work out family/divorce agreements; this opinion just lays it out in clear fashion.

The opinion is Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Drainville. It doesn't appear to have been posted yet on the court's website, but once it is, you should be able to find it here.  For now, here's a Lexis site for it: 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 63613.