In a Qualified Domestic Relations Order there are two common approaches used to split the benefit payments under a defined contribution plan and under a defined benefit plan. They are:

  1. Shared payment approach
    A shared payment approach enables an alternate payee to receive a portion of the benefit payment that would normally be paid to the participant of the retirement plan. In other words, the alternate payee will not receive any benefits until the participant receives a benefit. Many times this approach is used when the participant is already receiving payments when the QDRO is in the process of being prepared.Under a shared payment approach the QDRO needs to specifically state the amount or percentage of each payment the alternate payee will receive from the retirement plan. Furthermore the QDRO should indicate how long the payments from the retirement plan will be made to the alternate payee. It is important to arrive at a logical payment term or you may risk having the plan administrator not approve of the distribution. It is worthy to note, all payments will come from the retirement plan directly not from the participant of the retirement plan.The QDRO must specify the term of the payments (i.e. begin and end dates). When the child support starts is often the date the domestic relations order (DRO) becomes a QDRO. If the alternate payee is for a child it is common for the payment term to end when the child finishes college. If the alternate payee is for a former spouse it is common for the ending date to be when the former spouses remarries or passes away.
  2. Separate interest approach
    The separate interest approach is different from the shared payment approach. Instead of arriving at an equitable allocation of future distributions (i.e. assignment of payments) the separate interest approach provides the participant an interest in the retirement benefit that is no longer tethered to the participant. This approach provides the alternate payee more control over when, and in what form, the alternate payee wants to receive any benefit payments.  Similar to a shared payment approach, the separate interest QDRO would need to indicate the dollar amount, percentage of the total benefits, payment term along with a method that leads to a logical calculation of the total amount of future payments to be made to the alternate payee. It is important to note, future payments have to align to the constraints of the retirement plan to distribute monies to the participants.If the separate interest approach is applied to a situation, the financial divorce expert should address whether the alternate payee should receive survivor benefits or any other benefits that are payable under the plan. As a result a careful read of the retirement plan may bring forth alternative benefits not visible on the surface.

About the Author

Larry Smith is a Founding Partner of Divorce Outcomes, a specialized professional services firm that manages all of the financial aspects in a divorce process. Since 2003 he has worked as a trusted financial advisor, financial advocate, divorce architect and technical financial expert; he is not an attorney. He is an alumni of KPMG and Andersen with expertise in technical accounting, forensics, sophisticated taxation, management consulting, risk management, advanced process engineering, business combinations, divorce management, multi-party negotiations, advanced quality analytics and cognitive performance technologies. Since 1986 Larry has been advising individuals and organizations about innovative financial solutions to resolve complex financial challenges that arise in life and in business.

For both personal and business divorces, Larry is considered an expert in divorce strategies, divorce process management, financial divorce architecture, financial risk management, taxation for divorces, financial divorce forensics, advanced divorce analytics, financial divorce negotiations and mediation, business valuations and sophisticated equity structures. He helps clients shape complex financial decisions, manage communication risks and ever-changing negotiating positions to strategically preserve or grow wealth from these types of transactions.

If You Have a Question

If you have a question, feel free to contact me at [email protected] or 617-680-5222. The call is free. I will spend 30–60 minutes with you. I will provide you an honest assessment as to where I think you are positioned in your divorce process or answer any questions you have. I may provide you some guidance, insight or advice that you can take with you as you wish. There is no obligation to move forward. The phone call is designed to ease your fears, provide you some options to pursue and a potential road to run on that can lead you down a path to achieve a successful outcome.

About Divorce Outcomes

Divorce Outcomes is a specialty services firm that helps people both domestically and internationally manage all of the financial decisions that arise in their divorce process. We are not attorneys. We are financial experts who partner with our clients as their personal financial advocates. We help our clients manage their divorce process, uncover hidden financial risks, architect divorce solutions, manage ever-changing negotiating positions, communicate complex financial matters and close the divorce process as soon as possible with a goal to arrive at the best outcomes possible. Throughout the process we evaluate the current state of our clients’ financial lives with an objective to best reposition their future. We do not sell any products. We simply raise issues that are in our clients best interest. Our clients share with us we:

  • unfold, analyze and repackage their financial life so they are well positioned after their divorce
  • preserve the value of their business or marital estate
  • continuously strive to provide a return on our services
  • build balanced financial solutions grounded in evidence
  • find ways to make our client, and at times both parties, money through the process
  • design their divorce to work for them and their family’s life
  • provide mental clarity to make decisions
  • reduce the total process time from start to close
  • minimize the stress and unpleasant memories that can last a lifetime

As we reach an agreed upon settlement structure, we help our clients identify a fitting attorney who can leverage the financial solution to draft and record the requisite legal documents. Where outcomes are at risk from a traditional process, we function as expert financial negotiators or financial mediators to turn around the situation and achieve our client’s desired outcomes.

Learn more about us at or review our blogs to gain a clearer understanding about our approach and how we maximize the financial outcomes for our clients.


This communication is for general informational purposes only which may or may not reflect the most current developments. It is not intended to constitute formal advice or a recommended course of action as every person’s situation is unique and different. The information here is not intended to be, and should not be, relied upon by the recipient to make a decision without professional guidance.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This