Written By: Law offices of Zoller | Biacsi
Many recently divorced people become frustrated after their “final” hearing because their case still requires legal work. Every case is different. However, many cases resolve with the requirement that certain accounts are equalized as of a certain date. Collecting and exchanging statements or other account information can take some time. Reaching additional, post decree agreements about the settlement of those accounts can also take some time. The momentum for buttoning up these details is often lost once the Judge grants the divorce.
Other cases involve the equalization of, or offsetting of retirement accounts. This is typically accomplished by using Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs – “kew-droes”). A QDRO is a special kind of Court Order that causes retirement accounts, or portions of them, to be transferred between spouses without there being a taxable event. There are other special features of QDROs with which the lawyers of Zoller | Biacsi are very familiar. We deal with QDROs almost daily. In cases with multiple retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k) plans, defined benefit pension plans and deferred compensation plans, there can be the need for multiple QDROs. Sometimes these accounts are valued as of a certain date and the equalization transfer comes out of only one account. In other cases, the parties might determine that the best and most accurate way to insure mathematical precision is to divide every account without an offsetting transfer. These things take time.
Some divorce decrees are silent about who is supposed to do the work of implementing the terms of the outcome. Some court’s local rules address this responsibility and some do not. In general, it makes the most sense for the party who is receiving the transfer to have the responsibility to drafting the QDRO. However, in Cuyahoga County, the local rules assign the responsibility to the plan participant – the party whose retirement account is being reduced by the transfer. In any case, preparation of the QDRO is just the beginning of the end of implementing a decree. QDROs need to be approved by both sides and then by the Judge. Once a QDRO is officially a part of the Court record, a certified copy must be sent to the person who oversees the retirement plan (the “plan administrator”). Plan administrators can take as long as they like to review QDROs and there is frequently little a spouse can do to accelerate the approval of a QDRO by a plan administrator. There is some legal authority that indicates a plan administrator should approve or reject a QDRO within six months. Some, nevertheless, take longer. Attorneys who shepherd QDROs through this process can end up taking a lot of time making sure the intent of the parties and the terms of the agreement or decree are followed.
Some other examples of why it takes time and some legal fees following a divorce involve life insurance, motor vehicle transfers, real estate title transfers, refinancing of real estate mortgages, equalization and restructuring of debt and the physical exchange of personal property, pictures and pets. Following through to make sure these things happen on a timely basis can take months and cost legal fees even if neither party is ‘at fault’. Many cases involve the requirement that one or both parties maintain the former spouse as a beneficiary on life insurance following a divorce as security for the payment of child support, spousal support or both. Time and money is spent post decree making sure these provisions are complied with and that the beneficiary is notified if the policy lapses or a change of beneficiary is made.
Zoller | Biacsi prepares a check list of action items to be followed once a divorce decree is ‘final’. Completing all the items on these check lists can take anywhere from three to nine months. The speed of the implementation of the outcome of cases can depend on the cooperation and coordination of many people.