How to File a QDRO Without an Attorney

A qualified domestic relation order (QDRO) is a complicated legal document. Can I file a QDRO without an attorney? Yes, the filing steps of the QDRO process are straightforward. If you complete the early drafting steps correctly. The filing portion is mostly tedious.

How to do a QDRO without an attorney? You will need to follow the detailed steps below. In the early drafting steps, it is crucial not to make mistakes. A person can complete the drafting steps without an attorney, but they should still seek professional help. An individual can, however, complete the filing steps.

Can I File a QDRO Without an Attorney?

Wondering what QDRO means and if you can file without an attorney?

You do not need an attorney when filing a QDRO but it’s highly recommended so that it’s done right. You are simply required to submit the final proposed order to the county or county clerk. You may not need an attorney for the filing step, but you must seek legal advice during the drafting phase to ensure the order divides the benefits correctly, so no issues arise that would result in officials rejecting the QDRO.

How to File a QDRO Without an Attorney

Early in the QDRO process, your focus should be on analyzing the plan and circumstances of the parties involved in the divorce. Throughout the process, you will determine the benefits available and how to divide them. 

These steps require technical expertise in the legal requirements for retirement plans. Anyone interested in a QDRO should seek legal counsel to negotiate and draft the order. They can then submit it for acceptance.

The QDRO Process

One definition of a QDRO is “a domestic relations order that creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee’s right to receive, or assigns to an alternate payee the right to receive, all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under a retirement plan.”

QDROs may seem easy to prepare, especially if both parties are cooperating, but there is a lot that goes into them. QDROs, retirement plans and the rules governing them are complex and change constantly. 

It is hard for a non-attorney to understand all the changes. There are a variety of plans to proceed with, and each has unique requirements. One should draft a QDRO to meet specific legal criteria and customize it to the type of plan it is supposed to divide. 

Collect All Necessary Documents

The first step involves collecting information on relevant retirement plans. These include 401(k), 403(b), 457 plans, thrift plans, profit-sharing plans, money purchase plans, employee stock ownership plans, tax-sheltered annuities and business/corporate defined benefit or pension plans. Once you obtain these documents, you can move on to the next step.

Drafting a QDRO

Ideally, with an attorney, both parties must draft a separation if they have not finalized the divorce. If they have finalized it, then the language in the divorce is definitive. The attorney will use that language in the QDRO. They must also write the order to provide what the separation agreement states. 

Approvals Needed for Your QDRO File

You will have to collect some approvals. They are the approvals of both spouses or their attorneys, the retirement plan’s preapproval of the draft order, and the judge’s signature on the order. Once you get the approvals, the QDRO will move forward. 

Court and Plan Administrator’s Approval

The final steps involve filing the order with the clerk, then obtaining a certified copy of the signed, filed order. Afterward, the parties will have to submit the order to the retirement plan for “qualification.” The order will be received and the plan will be checked and interpreted. Finally, it will be decided how to implement the order. 

QDRO Rejected, Can You Fix It on Your Own?

If a person is unfamiliar with the routine, problems can arise due to them not understanding or improperly providing information in the QDRO. There may be items in the order that are not acceptable to the plan administrator. Sometimes one or both parties can quickly fix these errors. 

An example would be not using the exact name of the plan. However, these issues can be more substantial because some plans will not entail what some other plans might do.

Even if the attorney took the proper steps while examining the plan at stake, drafting the order and having it preapproved, the plan may reject the order because it violates some provision or federal law. 

This is part of why both parties should work with an attorney early on. In the event of a rejection, you will have to redraft the order. Once that occurs, have an attorney submit the plan to a judge for signature to ensure it meets the plan’s approval.

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When Can an Attorney for a QDRO Be a Good Fit for You?

An attorney is most useful in the early stages of the QDRO process. They can clear up misunderstandings and guide you through the more technical steps. If one or both parties make mistakes in the early stages, they could have negative effects later on. 

It is possible to work through the final steps without an attorney. As long as there is a clear understanding beyond the initial drafting steps, it is fine to proceed without one. However, if any of the parties has doubts, then an attorney would be beneficial.


Any person can successfully file a QDRO without an attorney. The steps are straightforward and involve more secretarial work than anything. As long as you drafted the documents correctly, it is unlikely that any problems will arise later on in the process when submitting documents to the county clerk. 

So, you should feel confident completing the filing stage of a QDRO without an attorney.

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Jarrod Hays is the founder of Skyview Law. He is licensed to practice law in Washington State and the Western District of Washington State Federal Court.

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