Protecting Survivors’ Economic Security in Later Life: Divorce, QDROs, and Coercive Control

Protecting Survivors’ Economic Security in Later Life: Divorce, QDROs, and Coercive Control

Presented by
Hon. Karen Howze, National Council of Juvenile & Family Court Judges
Emily Spreiser, Pension Rights Center/National Pension Assistance Resource Center
Cailin Crockett, Administration for Community Living, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services
Juanita Davis, National Clearinghouse on Abuse in Later Life

Concerns about long-term economic security can make it difficult for survivors of domestic violence to leave abusive relationships, and abusers often exhibit economic control and coercion over victims. We’ll explore how survivors can obtain part of a former spouse’s retirement benefit at divorce through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), and how abusers exercise coercive control by hindering QDRO access. This session will help advocates working with an increasingly aging population to better understand the role that retirement benefits play in promoting survivors’ long-term economic security, to identify legal resources specific to retirement, and to support survivors seeking to obtain a portion of an abuser’s earned retirement benefit at divorce. Judges will also benefit from an increased understanding of how access to retirement benefits promotes survivors’ long-term economic stability, and greater awareness of how the QDRO process operates once parties have left the courtroom.


  1. Hurdle III – true, that some lawyers know their female survivor needs a QDRO and that one is ordered, but may be motivated to shed the case quickly and leaves the client without any information about what a QDRO is or where to go to get this done.

  2. Forged signatures are common, glad you pointed that out. There is not a line that the disordered abuser will not cross. When taxes on retirement benefits are involved, for example on a distribution from a Tax-Deferred Savings account, preventing the former spouse from having tax documents so that tax filings cannot be completed properly is another tactic of abuse to watch out for. Survivors have to be able to have control and a way to communicate with the IRS that this is a problem.

  3. ERISA coverage is especially helpful, thank you. Is there really a way to have federal regulations used to enforce a contract with an abuser who believes he is above the law and entitled to withhold court-ordered funds from a former spouse?

  4. Critical points on pensions and retirement accounts. Court orders will not stop a Plan Participant from removing the former spouse as beneficiary on a Plan, and it is likely than an abuser will not provide court-ordered Plan Documents, financial statements, and if a company will not cooperate with a QDRO, there is no way to secure the pension benefits or plan distribution.

  5. Survivors should also make sure to file the QDRO themselves, if one is agreed to and assented to by the Company. In one case, there were two QDRO’s ordered at the time of divorce, but the abuser did not complete them and it took thousands in legal fees for the wife to have the QDRO’s completed, and even after that, one of the QDRO’s was filed in an office drawer instead of being filed with the court.

  6. Thank you for putting this together and sharing it on YouTube.
    You’re right, that it’s a major problem and one that seems invisible.
    Hopefully we’ll see more judges paying attention to this discussion and applying the knowledge in cases; but it may take a judge watching his or her own mother or sister or daughter suffering before it becomes important to judges hearing domestic cases. Personally, I’m experiencing what it is like to have assets/income stolen with the help of court officials. So far there’s no interest in applying information about coercive control and abuse shared by the NCJFCJ. Don’t give up and I won’t either.

  7. What can a survivor do if a Company will not secure a spouse’s marital portion of a benefit by accepting a QDRO? If a Judge signs a DRO, there is still no guarantee that the Company will honor it, correct?

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