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What must the plan administrator do during the determination process to protect against wrongly paying retirement benefits to the participant that would be paid to the alternate payee if the domestic relations order had been determined to be a QDRO?
During any period in which the issue of whether a domestic relations order is a QDRO is being determined (by a plan administrator, by a court of competent jurisdiction, or otherwise), ERISA requires that the plan administrator separately account for the amounts that would be payable to an alternate payee under the terms of the order during such period if the order had been determined to be qualified. These amounts are referred to as “segregated amounts.” During the period in which the status of a domestic relations order is being determined, the plan administrator must take steps to ensure that amounts that would have been payable to the alternate payee, if the order were a QDRO, are not distributed to the participant or any other person.

The plan administrator’s duty to separately account for and to preserve the segregated amounts is limited in time. ERISA provides that the plan administrator must preserve the segregated amounts for not longer than the end of an “18-month period.” This “18-month period” does not begin until the first date (after the plan receives the order) that the order would require payment to the alternate payee.

It is the view of the Department that, in order to ensure the availability of a full 18-month protection period, the 18 months cannot begin before the plan receives a domestic relations order. Rather, the “18-month period” will begin on the first date on which a payment would be required to be made under an order following receipt by the plan.

Reference: [ERISA §§ 206(d)(3)(H), 404(a); IRC § 414(p)(7)]


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