Do It Yourself Divorce Trap: Retirement Accounts

Mar 7, 2011

I received a call this week from a couple that handled their divorce without attorneys.  They had a mess.

They intended to divide the husband’s 401(k) retirement account as a part of the divorce.  However, they did not know that dividing this kind of account requires a special legal document called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order or “QDRO”. 

So, they obtained their divorce.  They then contacted the 401(k) administrator to divide the funds.  Only then did they find out that they needed a QDRO. 

Unfortunately, it will be far more complicated for them to divide this retirement account now.  What would have cost them less than $1,000 if they had involved attorneys in the beginning will now cost them several thousand dollars or more.

They called me to find out whether the account could be divided, whether a court could enter the QDRO now, and how much it would cost.  Needless to say, they were upset that their efforts to save money would cost them much more in the long run.

This just one real life example of why it is smart to consult a lawyer to handle the legal intricacies of divorce from the beginning.


Randolph (Tré) Morgan III is an experienced family law attorney accepting cases in Raleigh, Cary, Apex, Garner, Fuquay-Varina, Clayton, Smithfield, Wake Forest, RTP, Durham, Chapel Hill, Holly Springs and surrounding areas.  He focuses his practice in divorce, child custody, alimony, child support, equitable distribution, property division, paternity, guardianship and other family related matters.  

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