For any divorce lawyer, the most important area of technical expertise is that of pension plans. Virtually all divorce lawyers understand the difference between the different types of pension plans – defined benefit and defined contribution plans. The critical issue is to realize that perhaps more than any other area, the drafting of a QDRO is an advocacy tool. The QDRO can be drafted to favor your client – or not.
Your key reading source to learn about QDROs should be Qualified Domestic Relations Order Handbook, Third Edition by Gary Shulman. Wolters Kluwer. This book goes into sufficient detail to obtain a very good handle on all of the issues when negotiating and drafting qualified domestic relations orders. Your firm should have the Shulman book.
I have often heard of divorce lawyers who state, “I don’t do QDROs.” These lawyers look for some place to ship out QDROs. Now there are lawyers in Illinois whose entire practice is devoted to drafting QDROS. Often then focus on solving problems created by other lawyers who have poorly drafted QDROs or where the QDRO is not drafted at the time of the divorce.
When lecturing for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and doing other continuing legal education, I realized that many of the lawyers try to assign QDRO drafting to an associate. Equally bad, they simply ship out the drafting of a QDRO to a non-lawyer drafting service. The down-side of this approach is that you cannot insulate yourself from liability by assigning a lawyer’s job to a non-lawyer (actuary, economist or the like).