Print Posted by Joel Smith, on 11/07/2017

The Cost of a QDRO in California

The Cost of a QDRO in California

Many people may wonder what they will have to pay when processing a QDRO in California. Well for those people we have compiled a quick reference guide to outline mandatory and optional costs in the California QDRO process. The good news is that most of the cost are optional, but depending on your comfort level with the legal system it may be a better idea to save time and headache and find legal professionals to help with some or all aspects of a QDRO.

Essentially a QDRO is a formal order through a person’s family law case that will direct a plan administrator to make a division and distribution of some portion of an account. Before getting to that final stage are some procedural requirements that may or may not have costs associated with them.

Best case scenario a QDRO will cost you $20 in California to process. This is a court “Stipulation and Order Fee” or a “QDRO Fee’, but the good news here is some courts don’t even process that fee on a QDRO. Worst case scenario, well not even that bad considering once the process is completed you will be receiving a sizeable sum of money, is described below.

Phase one is completing the QDRO draft. A sample can be obtained from the plan administrator and if they have no sample then a free drafted order can be prepared. There is no court requirement that these need to be prepared by a specific attorney or company so if the party is comfortable doing the drafting of the order they are welcome to it. In both situations where a sample is or is not available important case details are merged into the order and QDRO and Pension Division Attorneys are familiar and can do this with ease. Because this portion of the family law case is not contested these family law attorneys may often charge a flat fee rather than retainer. Same goes for legal document assistants (paralegals) who prepare QDROs in regards to charging a single flat fee to process the QDRO.

After the QDRO is drafted it can be sent over to the plan administrator for review. While most plan administrators will process a review at no charge, there are some who access a review fee for having a staff member in their legal department review the work you have done. While this is rare, you will want to check with your plan administrator to confirm before doing so as in some case they may pull that fee directly from the account. While not commonly assessed, this fee could be a few hundred dollars.

Once reviewed the plan administrator has provided an approval letter and you can submit your signed QDO to the court. The document must be signed by both parties, and any attorneys on record. If the Respondent has not appeared in the case (filed a response and become an active party) their signature will need to be notarized. This is a court requirement to make sure the signatures are in fact those of the parties. Currently in California the fee limit on a notary is $15, but if you get a mobile notary, they can assess a trip fee based on your location. Easy options for notary are local UPS and FedEx stores. You can then submit to the court. As mentioned above, the court may have a $20 fee to have the Judge sign and execute the order, check with your court first to confirm. 

After the Judge has signed and returned copies to you, the order is ready to go to the plan administrator for them to begin the division. Here is the potential final fee. Not un-common, but not a majority, some plan administrators assess a QDRO fee. Essentially when they receive the order, someone on staff has to do advanced math calculations and create new accounts and enter the new account holder into their system. Sometimes if a pension account is being split by the QDRO retirement and membership benefits information and packages are sent out and they will now maintain the account almost as if you were an employee. The average for this final QDRO division fee, if required can be $500-$1500 but almost always, the QDRO will address that fee as to who is paying it. The options for this are typically both parties pay half, or one parties pays it all. The good news here is this fee is often deducted from the accounts after division, meaning no physical payment has to be made. If you are unsure about your ability to get from start to finish with your QDRO, a QDRO Paralegal or Local Family Law Attorney may be a good place to start.

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