QDRO: What does it mean?

Equitable Distribution in New York: What is a QDRO? A New York Divorce attorney explains
QDRO is an acronym for Qualified Domestic Relations Order. A qualified domestic relations order is an order of the court directing certain action by the retirement plan or parties in a divorce action. A qualified domestic relations order can relate to retirement benefits, alimony, child support, maintenance and property distribution. Mostly QDRO’s relate to pension/retirement benefits.
There are private benefits and federal benefits and each plan has its own rules so a QDRO has to be drafted pursuant to the rules of the particular plan otherwise the court can’t order it. And even if the court orders it, the plan itself does not have to enforce it.
In determining the equitable distribution of a retirement plan, the parties will have to use a formula to determine what the non-pensioned spouse will receive. The formula is usually a fraction using as the numerator the number of months of contribution to the plan while married. The denominator will be the number of months of contribution to the plan. That fraction will be multipled by one half (1/2). This figure will the the non-participant spouse’s pro rata share of pension benefits.
Pension benefits are usually a form of deferred compensation. That means you usually don’t get it till you reach a certain age. So usually the distribution of this asset occurs at retirement age. But there are situations where you can receive a lump sum payment immediately. If you roll that over into your own retirement plan, you can usually avoid tax consequences. If the plan itself does not allow lump sum payments you cannot use this option, however. And if you cannot determine the titled spouse’s interest in the plan at the time of dissolution of the marriage, you cannot use the lump sum option either.
The other form of distribution is to get a percentage of the titled spouse’s benefit when it is paid at retirement.
Because pension benefits are a form of deferred compensation, it is probable that if the participant spouse dies before eligibility to receive benefits, the former spouse probably would not receive any benefits unless the QDRO specifically directs that the former spouse receives benefits even if the participant spouse dies before this compensation is conveyed.