By Matthew L. Lundy
When it comes to client satisfaction, an attorney cannot totally control the outcome of a case. However, attorneys have absolute control over the expectations that they create in their clients.
Family law attorneys often make the same mistakes when it comes to managing the retirement account division process (i.e., the qualified domestic relations order or QDRO process). These mistakes often lead otherwise satisfied clients to being dissatisfied - sometimes long after the case is thought to be over.
With a proper explanation to a client, combined with the effective execution and completion of the QDRO process, client dissatisfaction at the end of a case is substantially less likely. This article addresses some of the common mistakes made by family law attorneys when it comes to setting client expectations related to the QDRO process and offers recommendations for how to avoid those mistakes.
Timing of Completing a QDRO or Similar Order
By far the most common mistake that family law attorneys make when it comes to setting client expectations related to the QDRO process is in assuming that the QDRO process comes with some kind of guarantee as to timing. This is to say, when your client asks you how long it will take to get their money from the other party's account, you should know that 29 U.S.C. 1056(d)(3)(G)(i)(II) provides:
within a reasonable period after receipt of such order, the plan administrator shall determine whether such order is a qualified domestic relations order and notify the participant and each alternate payee of such determination.
As a practical matter, this means that the plan administrator has no precise time limit as to how long they can take to review and administer an order. While certain timetables may be safely assumed, generally, promising a client that the QDRO process will be quick can lead to unrealistic expectations.
If an attorney is not familiar with a particular plan (keep in mind there are more than 100,000 plans nationwide and growing) and its qualification process, it is best to avoid estimating anything shorter than several months from the time that the QDRO is prepared.
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