LEGAL CORNER: Why do qualified domestic relations orders take so long?

Published: Aug. 3, 2022 at 11:54 AM CDT|Updated: Aug. 3, 2022 at 12:37 PM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - Legal Corner answers viewers’ civil legal questions.

QUESTION: My ex and I agreed on our community property a long time ago, but my lawyer is taking forever in getting the QDRO done. Why do QDROs take so long?

ANSWER: QDRO (qualified domestic relations order) is a legal order that requires a portion of a spouse’s retirement plan to be paid to an “alternate payee” who is usually the other spouse. A QDRO is required because federal law does not allow the retirement plan administrator to automatically split up funds in certain types of retirement plans. A QDRO must comply with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which was established by Congress to provide protections for beneficiaries and participants in retirement plans.

Typically, beneficiary spouses will contact their attorney to draft a QDRO document to have the funds transferred. Some retirement plans also have standardized QDRO forms. Once drafted, the QDRO is submitted to the retirement plan administrator for approval.

This step of the process can require multiple drafts because the QDRO must list the account or plan name, number, and plan administrator exactly. Sometimes the plan name can change over time, making it necessary to get a current account statement from the spouse participating in the plan. The plan administrator will usually not disclose information to the alternate payee or his or her attorney without an authorization from the spouse participating in the plan, which can also result in delays.

Once a draft is submitted, a plan administrator can take anywhere between 2-3 weeks to determine whether a draft meets the requirements of both the plan and federal law. If your attorney has to submit multiple drafts, the process can take months. Your attorney will want to make sure the plan administrator approves the proposed QDRO before filing because of the fees you must pay each time you file a document with the clerk of court. Once the plan administrator accepts it, the QDRO is submitted to the court and the transfer is finalized.

  • QDRO must be approved by the Plan Administrator.
  • It must list the plan name, account number, and plan administrator exactly as written on the account statement.
  • May require multiple drafts which take 2-3 weeks for the plan administrator to review.
  • Once approved by the plan administrator, the QDRO is submitted to the court and the transfer is finalized.

QUESTION: My lawyer handled a case for me and said that I did not have to pay court costs because I was granted “pauper status.” The case has long been over. I am now getting court cost bills. What gives?

ANSWER: Pauper status is also known as filing In Forma Pauperis or IFP. A person will usually qualify for pauper status when they are unable to pay the costs of court because of a lack of income or means.

It’s a common misconception that being granted pauper status means that the person will not owe any court costs. In reality, however, pauper status usually only results in a delay of the court costs. That’s why it is sometimes referred to as a fee delayer. Normally, when documents are filed with the court in a lawsuit, the clerk of court collects filing fees. These fees are determined by law based on the kind of filing and the number of pages filed. These fees are due in advance of filing and cover the clerk of court’s administrative costs. If the fees are not paid, the clerk can essentially shut down the litigation and refuse to accept filings. You must pay a filing fee unless you can show the court that you do not have the means to pay the fee at the time of filing.

When a litigant is granted pauper status, these fees are deferred until the end of the case. At the end of the case, the court may order the parties to pay all or some of the deferred court costs. In civil cases, who pays the court costs is sometimes determined by who prevails in the lawsuit. If you lose or settle the case, you may get charged with court costs. The court has discretion to waive the costs if it decides it is the “equitable” thing to do.

  • Pauper status is usually granted when person is unable to afford to advance filing fees or court costs.
  • Does not eliminate court costs, but only delays their assessment.
  • Court costs may still be assessed at the end of the litigation.
  • Who pays the costs may depend on who wins.

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