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Employee Benefits Security Administration

Appendix C - IRS Sample Language for a QDRO

The following document, which contains sample language for inclusion in a form for a QDRO and discussion of the sample language, was issued by the Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service in compliance with Congressional directives contained in the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1986, section 1457(a)(2). It appeared in Internal Revenue Bulletin 1997-2 at p. 49 (Jan. 13, 1997). This document was developed in consultation with the Department of Labor and is reprinted here for the convenience of the reader.

Part III - Administrative, Procedural and Miscellaneous Sample Language for a Qualified Domestic Relations Order Notice 97-11


This Notice provides information intended to assist domestic relations attorneys, plan participants, spouses and former spouses of participants, and plan administrators in drafting and reviewing a qualified domestic relations order ("QDRO"). The Notice provides sample language that may be included in a QDRO relating to a plan that is qualified under § 401(a) or § 403(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 ("qualified plan" or "plan") and that is subject to § 401(a)(13). The Notice also discusses a number of issues that should be considered in drafting a QDRO. A QDRO is a domestic relations order that provides for payment of benefits from a qualified plan to a spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent of a plan participant and that meets certain requirements.

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Statutory QDRO Requirements

Section 401(a)(13)(A) of the Code provides that benefits under a qualified plan may not be assigned or alienated. Section 401(a)(13)(B) establishes an exception to the antialienation rule for assignments made pursuant to domestic relations orders that constitute QDROs within the meaning of § 414(p). A "domestic relations order" is defined in § 414(p)(1)(B) as any judgment, decree, or order (including approval of a property settlement agreement) that:

  • Relates to the provision of child support, alimony payments, or marital property rights to a spouse, former spouse, child, or other dependent of a participant
  • Is made pursuant to a State domestic relations law (including a community property law). There is no exception to the § 401(a)(13)(A) antialienation rule for assignments made pursuant to domestic relations orders that are not QDROs.

Section 414(p)(1)(A) provides, in general, that a QDRO is a domestic relations order that creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee's right, or assigns to an alternate payee the right, to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable with respect to a participant under a plan, and that meets the requirements of paragraphs (2) and (3) of § 414(p). Section 414(p)(2) requires that a QDRO clearly specify:

  • The name and last known mailing address (if any) of the participant and of each alternate payee covered by the order
  • The amount or percentage of the participant's benefits to be paid by the plan to each alternate payee, or the manner in which that amount or percentage is to be determined
  • The number of payments or period to which the order applies
  • Each plan to which the order applies.

Section 414(p)(3) provides that a QDRO cannot require a plan to provide any type or form of benefit, or any option, not otherwise provided under the plan; cannot require a plan to provide increased benefits (determined on the basis of actuarial value); and cannot require the payment of benefits to an alternate payee that are required to be paid to another alternate payee under another order previously determined to be a QDRO. Section 414(p)(4)(A)(i) provides that a domestic relations order shall not be treated as failing to meet the requirements of § 414(p)(3)(A) (and thus will not fail to be a QDRO) solely because the order requires payment of benefits to an alternate payee on or after the participant's earliest retirement age, even if the participant has not separated from service at that time. Section 414(p)(4)(B) defines earliest retirement age as the earlier of:

  • The date on which the participant is entitled to a distribution under the plan, or
  • The later of (I) the date the participant attains age 50, or
  • The earliest date on which the participant could begin receiving benefits under the plan if the participant separated from service.

Section 414(p)(5) permits a QDRO to provide that the participant's former spouse shall be treated as the participant's surviving spouse for purposes of §§ 401(a)(11) and 417 (relating to the right to receive survivor benefits and requirements concerning consent to distributions), and that any other spouse of the participant shall not be treated as a spouse of the participant for these purposes. An alternate payee is defined under § 414(p)(8) as any spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent of a participant who is recognized by a domestic relations order as having a right to receive all, or a portion of, the benefits payable under a plan with respect to the participant. Section 414(p)(10) provides that a plan shall not fail to satisfy the requirements of § 401(a), 401(k) or 403(b) solely by reason of payments made to an alternate payee pursuant to a QDRO.

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Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996

Section 1457(a)(2) of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 ("SBJPA") directs the Secretary of the Treasury ("Secretary") to develop sample language for inclusion in a form for a QDRO described in § 414(p)(1)(A) of the Code and §206(d)(3)(B)(i) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") that meets the requirements contained in those sections, and the provisions of which focus attention on the need to consider the treatment of any lump sum payment, qualified joint and survivor annuity ("QJSA"), or qualified preretirement survivor annuity ("QPSA"). Accordingly, the Service and Treasury are publishing the discussion and sample QDRO language set forth in the Appendix to this Notice.

Section 1457(a)(1) of the SBJPA directs the Secretary to publish sample language that can be included in a form that is used for a spouse to consent to a participant's waiver of a QJSA or QPSA. This sample language for use in spousal consent forms is contained in Notice 97-10 in this Bulletin.

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Department of Labor Interpretive Authority

Section 206(d)(3) of ERISA (29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)) contains QDRO provisions that are substantially parallel to those of § 414(p) of the Code. The Department of Labor has jurisdiction to interpret these provisions (except to the extent provided in § 401(n) of the Code) and the provisions governing the fiduciary duties owed with respect to domestic relations orders and QDROs. Section 401(n) gives the Secretary of the Treasury the authority to prescribe rules or regulations necessary to coordinate the requirements of §§ 401(a)(13) and 414(p), and the regulations issued by the Department of Labor thereunder, with other Code provisions. The Department of Labor has reviewed this Notice, including its Appendix, and has advised the Service and Treasury that the discussion and sample language are consistent with the views of the Department of Labor concerning the statutory requirements for QDROs. This Notice, including its Appendix, is not intended by the Service or Treasury to convey interpretations of the statutory requirements applicable to QDROs, but only to provide examples of language that may be (but are not required to be) used in drafting a QDRO that satisfies these requirements.

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Sample Language

The appendix to this notice has two parts. Part I discusses certain issues that should be considered when drafting a QDRO. Part II contains sample language that will assist in drafting a QDRO. Drafters who use the sample language will need to conform it to the terms of the retirement plan to which the QDRO applies, and to specify the amounts assigned and other terms of the QDRO so as to achieve an appropriate division of marital property or level of family support. A domestic relations order is not required to incorporate the sample language in order to satisfy the requirements for a QDRO, and a domestic relations order that incorporates part of the sample language may omit or modify other parts.

The sample language addresses a variety of matters, but is not designed to address all retirement benefit issues that may arise in each domestic relations matter or QDRO. Further, some of the sample language, while helpful in facilitating the administration of a QDRO, is not necessarily required for the order to satisfy the requirements for a QDRO. Alternative formulations would be permissible for use in drafting orders that meet the statutory requirements for a QDRO.

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Other Sources of Information

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation ("PBGC") recently published a booklet entitled Divorce Orders & PBGC, which discusses the special QDRO rules that apply for plans that have been terminated and are trusteed by PBGC, and provides model QDROs for use with those plans. This publication may be obtained by calling PBGC's Customer Service Center at 1.800.400.PBGC or via the PBGC Web Site.

Additional information on the rights of participants and spouses to plan benefits can be found in a two-booklet set published by the Service, entitled Looking Out for #2. These booklets discuss retirement benefit choices under a defined contribution or a defined benefit plan, and may be obtained by calling the Internal Revenue Service at 1.800.TAX.FORM, and asking for Publication 1565 (defined contribution plans) or Publication 1566 (defined benefit plans).


The Service invites the public to comment on the QDRO discussion and sample language included in the Appendix to this Notice, and welcomes suggestions concerning possible additional sample language. Comments may be submitted to the Internal Revenue Service at CC:DOM:CORP:R (Notice 97-11), Room 5226, Internal Revenue Service, POB 7604, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, D.C. 20044. Alternatively, taxpayers may hand-deliver comments between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. to CC:DOM:CORP:R (Notice 97-11), Courier's desk, Internal Revenue Service, 1111 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., or may submit comments electronically via the IRS Web Site.

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Drafting Information

The principal authors of this Notice are Diane S. Bloom of the Employee Plans Division and Susan M. Lennon of the Office of the Associate Chief Counsel (Employee Benefits and Exempt Organizations); however, other personnel from the Service and Treasury contributed to its development. For further information regarding this Notice, please contact the Employee Plans Division's taxpayer assistance telephone service at 202.622.6074/6075, between the hours of 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Thursday. Alternatively, please call Ms. Bloom at 202. 622.6214 or Ms. Lennon at 202.622.4606. Questions concerning QDROs may be addressed to Susan G. Lahne of the Pension and Welfare Benefits Administration, Department of Labor, at 202.219.7461. These telephone numbers are not toll-free.