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When long-term marriages end, the real trouble can start, p. 2

We are continuing the discussion from our last post, about long-term marriages coming to an end. There are no hard and fast statistics, but family law attorneys in Chicago and elsewhere report a higher volume of older clients, some married for 25 or 30 years, looking to divorce.

Some are victims of "empty-nest syndrome," some are in the throes of mid-life crises. Whatever the reason, couples who are well-off and have been together for a couple of decades face some unique challenges. In many cases, retirement is coming up, and ensuring financial security for both could be complicated.

Retirement accounts, brokerage accounts and the like will be scrutinized, and in "equitable distribution" states like Illinois, each spouse can claim a share. This will require a "qualified domestic relations order," or QDRO.

The QDRO (pronounced "quadro") describes how each account will be divided. The parties agree to the terms; one or both attorneys draft the QDRO; the order is then submitted to the court for approval.

Financial advisers recommend that the QDRO be as specific as possible. Each account should be identified by name and number, not just for clarity but to make sure the order complies with the institution's or the plan's rules. Advisers also warn that all plans are not created equal -- not everything can be divided, so it's important to review the plan rules before making any decisions.

The prep work is critical in a QDRO -- if the court approves an order that does not comply with a plan's rules, the plan administrator can reject it. The couple must revise the order and go back to court, a fairly expensive and time-consuming proposition.

In these situations, it's always best to consult with experienced professionals.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "The 'Splitting' Headaches of Late-Life Divorce," Kelly Greene, Aug. 6, 2011

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