In California Family Law cases, when pension or retirement accounts are being divided by way of a QDRO, a joinder is often needed to facilitate the process. This is a series of family law court forms that are prepared, filed with the court, served on an account administrator and then proof of that serve (notification) is filed at the court.
A Joinder refers to both a set of documents and a process. The joinder documents do a few important things with the court. When a divorce or separation order is entered in the court it may address an account to be divided and often times, not much more than that. One important function a Joinder serves is to bring in the specific information about an account that was addressed or will be addressed in a family law case in California. It contains the official name of the account and plan as well as information about the employee who the account was established for. Many of these details by default are not included in a divorce or separation process or documents. Another function the Joinder documents serve is to request the court make a hold or freeze on the account in question. When the Joinder documents are filed with the court the clerk can make an order that prevents the account holder from making any distributions until further notice/order of the court. This is important if you think the other party may be trying to liquidate and conceal assets. It will freeze the account until a QDRO or other order is made by the court. An important note is that joinders can be filed at anytime in the family law case.
The Joinder process is relatively quick and initiates by preparing and filing the joinder and attachments to joinder with the court inside of your already established family law case. The documents are filed and returned to the party by the court clerk on the spot. If requesting a freeze on the account, the documents will have an order having the account administrator do so. At this point only the court knows about these documents and orders which is why the court requires these documents be served on the account administrator. This is simply a copy of the filed documents, with required blank responses forms, being delivered to the account administrator. If California there are different options for serve, but most common on Joinders would be personal service, mail service with acknowledgment from recipient or certified mail if outside California. Local process servers can facilitate these and provide more information about the timeline and costs. A proof of the completed serve is filed at the court so that the court has record this requirement has been completed.
One thing to note is that the joinder doesn’t serve much function outside what was listed above. It will not divide an account; it will not provide a value or estimation of a portion of the account. Think of a joinder as the initial phase and requirement of the QDRO which will make the order to divide the account. Also important to note, not all types of plans or accounts require a joinder in California. The courts has a guideline for this on their website here, but if you are unsure, contact a QDRO & Pension Division Attorney. These are family law attorneys who either provide QDRO services or attorneys who exclusively handle QDROs. There are also local QDRO document preparation services who can assist with the joinder process.