When alimony and/or child support arrearages accrue after a divorce, sometimes the only asset of value owned by the former spouse is his or her pension/retirement accounts. However, your former spouse may be far from retirement age.
Fortunately, there is still a way to demand payment of the support arrearage from your former spouse’s pension/retirement accounts even if your former spouse isn’t retired. A qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO, entered by the family law court requires the holder of the pension/retirement funds to pay you the court-ordered arrearage amount from those funds. There is virtually nothing your former spouse can do to block this payment once the QDRO is entered.
QDRO’s are more commonly used in divorce cases to divide a spouse’s retirement benefits between the spouses as part of the equitable distribution process. It may surprise many people to know, divorce attorneys included, that QDRO’s can also be entered after the divorce for the purpose of collecting court-ordered support arrearages from a non-paying former spouse. You should keep in mind, however, that a court cannot require a retirement plan to make payments not allowed by the particular retirement plan. For example, a lump sum payment for support arrearages is not usually allowed by retirement plans. There can also be unwanted tax consequences depending on the wording of the QDRO.
If you think this is a collection avenue you want to pursue, it is especially important to consult an experienced family law attorney to advise you about this very technical area of family law. Even a small mistake in the drafting of the QDRO could defeat your collection attempt.