Spousal Rights Under ERISA Plans: Avoiding Loss of Benefits After Divorce, Ensuring Regulatory Compliance

QDROs, QMCSOs, Participant Pensions in Divorce, Enforcement of Court Orders and Plan Administrator Responsibilities

Recording of a 90-minute premium CLE webinar with Q&A

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Conducted on Thursday, November 15, 2018

Recorded event now available

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Course Materials

This CLE will guide benefits counsel on issues associated with the spousal rights of benefits under ERISA. The panel will address the necessary procedures and challenges in securing qualified domestic relations orders (QDROs), qualified medical child support orders (QMSCOs) and other spousal rights, and methods to ensure compliance with ERISA. The panel will also discuss issues in providing employer-sponsored medical benefits to dependents in divorce or child support, and employer and plan administrator responsibility in enforcing court orders impacting a plan participant’s pension or other benefits.


Retirement plans and other benefits tend to be the majority of assets of many individuals and are the most important aspects of divorce settlements or other actions impacting retirement accounts. Counsel must avoid mistakes in securing rights of non-participant spouses to prevent the loss of benefits. Plan administrators must ensure that plan documents and procedures are in accord with ERISA when enforcing any court orders impacting a plan participant’s benefits.

A divorce, separation or other proceeding may result in an order or decree that divides a participant’s retirement plan benefit between the participant and an alternate payee, such as a spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent. These QDROs or QMSCOs must meet requirements under ERISA to allow the plan administrator to divide the participant’s benefits. The prevalence of pitfalls and potential impact of errors forces practitioners to anticipate and avoid mistakes in drafting QDROs and QMSCOs.

Errors resulting in loss of benefits to the non-participant spouse include failing to recognize survivor benefit issues, failing to know the difference in dividing an ERISA plan vs. a federal government plan for a federal employee, and the lack of understanding the necessary requirements for employers and plan administrators to enforce court orders under ERISA. Plan administrators are required to pay benefits under any QDRO, and the plan must include written procedures for determining whether the order is a QDRO, and whether and how such benefits will be split.

Listen as our panel of experienced attorneys offers best practices for drafting and structuring QDROs and QMSCOs, key components in reviewing and approving them on behalf of benefit plan administrators, and methods in avoiding the most prevalent errors in the division of retirements accounts.



  1. Methods of securing rights of non-participant spouse and/or dependents
  2. Key drafting concepts for QDROs and QMSCOs
  3. ERISA requirements and avoiding errors in securing spousal rights
  4. Plan administrator obligations and regulatory compliance
    1. Plan rules and intepretation
    2. ERISA plan vs. federal government plan
    3. Participant status
  5. Best practices for benefits counsel and plan administrators


The panel will review these and other principal issues:

  • What are the most common drafting errors in settlement agreements/judgments of divorce/dissolution relating to QDROs and QMCSOs?
  • What are the key drafting concepts in securing spousal rights and split of benefits from plan administrators?
  • Review and enforcement of QDROs on behalf of plan administrators
  • Plan administrator obligations and regulatory compliance challenges
  • Understanding key differences in the division of ERISA plans vs. federal government plans
  • Best practices for benefits counsel and plan administrators in the enforcement of court orders impacting plan benefits


McBurney, Emily
Emily W. McBurney

QDRO Attorney, President
Emily W. McBurney

Ms. McBurney practices in the area of taxation and domestic relations and family law. She is a recognized...  |  Read More

Nixon, Louise
Louise Nixon

QDRO Attorney, President of QDRO Benefits Law Group, CEO
QDRO Counsel

Ms. Nixon practice focuses on retirement benefits, specifically determining the community or marital interest in...  |  Read More

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