“The question isn’t at what age I want to retire, it’s at what income.”
–George Foreman

“After you’re older, two things are possibly more important than any others: health and money.”
–Helen Gurley Brown

This is a book you should buy for your divorce and family law library. If you’re bewildered by ERISA’s strange vocabulary, you wonder why no two plans are the same, or you struggle to understand the interplay between federal and state laws, this handbook will help you in your divorce and family law practice. Writing domestic relations orders, reading domestic relations orders, or processing domestic relations orders, The Complete QDRO Handbook will be your guide. It is a handy, practical resource for family lawyers, plan administrators, judges, and state IV-D agencies striving to provide retirement benefits to those men, women and children entitled to them. An ABA bestseller, the book is now in its third edition.

The full title of David Clayton Carrad’s book is The Complete QDRO Handbook: Dividing ERISA, Military, and Civil Service Pensions and Collecting Child Support from Employee Benefit Plans. As the name implies, this book covers the substantive law of QDROs, matters of drafting, the procedural maze both from the outside (private practice) and from the inside (administrators), and the best way to maneuver QDROs through all the various parties involved. Carrad guides you in dealing with your divorce and family law clients, opposing counsel, discovery issues, the pension plan documents, plan administrators, and best practices. He says his goal was to design “a cookbook filled with step-by-step recipes,” to help the divorce and family law practice.

How does “chef” Carrad have the experience and expertise to whip up so many recipes for so many palates when divorce and family law is so varied? Carrad is a former Chair of the Family Law Section of the Delaware State Bar Association. He drafted QDROs for clients while in private practice. He reviewed and approved QDROs for corporations, and designed several international pension plans. In 2000, Carrad founded QDRO Solutions, Inc. to provide QDRO services to family lawyers, corporate legal departments, plan administrators, state agencies, and judges throughout the country.

Remarkably, too many divorce and family lawyers give up, hurting their clients in the process. According to Carrad:

. . . The most common form of malpractice in the QDRO area is the failure of counsel for the Alternate Payee to persevere and make sure that a QDRO is entered by the state divorce court as well as sent to and finally accepted by the plan. In my experience in plan administration, about 15-20 percent of the time when an initial QDRO application is rejected by the plan, the application is simply abandoned. The plan never hears back from the Alternate Payee’s lawyers, and the Alternate Payee’s rights are irrevocably lost.

The Complete QDRO Handbook explains the concepts of employee benefit plans and ERISA, how to draft domestic relations orders, how to have them accepted as “qualified,” how to use the necessary language, and how to improve that language with additional clauses to avoid surprises — all of which is essential to the divorce and family lawyers. Carrad shows when and how to use each of his many form letters, interrogatories, checklists, orders and other documents. His forms are included on a CD-ROM, like most recent ABA books, which is very useful for the divorce and family law practices.

Carrad’s handbook is user-friendly and very practical. It provides “the big picture,” easy entry into the specific answers you need on various divorce and family law issues, and model forms to get you on your way in your divorce and family law practice.

Of particular note are sections like:

1.10 The Top Ten QDRO Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

3.2 The Three Key Plan Documents

5.3 Use and Misuse of Coverture Fractions

5.7 Alimony and Child Support

6.3 Alternative Approaches to Dividing Annuities

6.4 Which Alternative is Best for Your Client?

7.2 What are the Realistic Alternatives?

8.3.D The “Dirty Dozen”: 12 Good Reasons Why Your Clients (and Your Malpractice Insurance Carrier) Don’t Want You to Just Fill in the Blanks in the Plan’s Model Order

8.5 Model DRO with Alternative Clauses

8.7 DRO Checklist

17.6 A Quick Test for Evaluating DROs [for family court judges]

Of course, there is more, and Carrad covers it all for the divorce and family lawyers: employee benefit plans, support obligations, ERISA principles, getting information and interim relief, inclusion, valuation, annuities, client needs, strategy, drafting, qualifying the order, litigation, military retired pay, federal civil service plans, IRAs, nonqualified plans, state and local plans, trends and future developments, the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, coverture fractions, and the use of QDRO experts.

Carrad is trying to make your job as a divorce and family lawyer easier and more rewarding to your client:

It is my firm belief that conflicts between these different QDRO constituencies are unnecessary. We all share a common goal: to get well-written, understandable, and effective QDROs drafted and approved with a minimum of delay and expense, so that the husbands, wives, and children who are supposed to benefit from QDROs actually receive the benefits that Congress wanted them to get when it passed ERISA and the Retirement Equity Act.

The question isn’t when will your divorce and family law clients retire. As Foreman said, it’s at what income. Retirement money will be critical when your divorce and family law clients are older so it should be important to you now. Make sure your QDROs are effective, approved, and financially rewarding. Carrad’s cookbook feeds you the recipes, supports your efforts, and guides you from ERISA’s kitchen to cash for your divorce and family law clients. Bonne lecture!