A joinder is a set of court documents that are prepared and filed at the court prior to a pension division order. The joinder is usually the first step to in the pension/retirement division. Basically the joinder documents “Join” the pension/retirement plan to the court case making it a third party. The court requires a joinder on most retirement/pension plans for a few reasons. One reason is because like any other court case, all parties involved need to be made aware of the proceedings with a chance to respond. The court allows the plan administrator 30 days to respond to the serve and bring any important information into the case. The joinder also freezes the plan listed so it cannot be liquidated prior to a formal court order.


The Courts General requirements for a Joinder.

A joinder is a set of forms that include a summons. After preparation, they are signed by either party of the case, and then filed at the court. Once the documents are filed they must be properly served on the plan administrator (account holder). At this point the court requires a 30 day period for the plan administrator to respond if they choose to. After the 30 day period the court will allow the submission of the approved pension/retirement plan documents. Learn more about the pension/retirement division here.

What is the Time Line of a Joinder?

Joinders, being a single set of documents have a short timeline to complete. Our team can typically have the joinder documents prepared and signed the same day and filed shortly after. After filing the documents we start the process serve immediately. Right after proper service and the required wait, the QDRO can be submitted to the court for filing. Joinders can be filed the same time as the divorce petition. Some people wait for years after the divorce has finalized when they are ready to retire. Unfortunately, some of the people who wait find out that the funds were already liquidated.

My Plan Administrator said I Don’t Need a Joinder. Is That True?

Our team hears this statement often. When obtaining a sample draft for the pension/retirement division documents the plan administrator, and sometimes our clients, will say that a joinder is not required by the plan administrator. Many out of state plan administrators do not require a joinder, and some have no idea what a joinder. However, in California, a joinder is usually required by the court before a QDRO will be processed.

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Transcript: Hello everyone, this is Joel over at Just Document Preparation, bonded and registered legal document assistance. Today, I wanna talk to you about joinders in California family law cases. We’re gonna talk about what a joinder is, and the function that it serves, as well as the top level overview of the process, timelines, and prices associated with a joinder. We’re also gonna look at why some plans do and don’t require a joinder, and what that means, and then we’ll talk about the steps that come after the joinder.

In California, a joinder is a set of documents that is prepared, and then filed inside of an active family law case. Typically, the joinder is the first step in completing a QDRO, qualified domestic relations order. These are commonly referred to as pension divisions, or retirement divisions. These joinders and the QDRO process are typically in family law cases where there is gonna be a division of assets, specifically that asset or those assets would be the retirement account, or the pension account. In California, importantly, the joinder freezes the plan. So, for example, if there is a family law case going on, the joinder documents can be prepared, filed, served on the plan administrator, and that would instruct or order them from the court to freeze the account. This can be useful in certain family law cases where tensions are high, or parties are not agreeing at the moment. In California, the joinder process is pretty straightforward, as well as consistent in most family law cases, regardless of what county it’s filed in. Initially, the documents are prepared, they’re filed at the court. Upon filing, the clerk at the family law court is going to issue a summons, as well as an order. The order is for the plan administrator, or the account holder, instructing them of a few things. Importantly, instructing them to freeze the account if it’s been requested in the documents. Upon walking out of the court with your filed documents, they have to be served on the plan administrator.

The court order and the joinder documents are really of no use unless the plan administrator has a copy, and knows what the court has instructed them to do with the account. So, a serve can happen, common methods of serve that people use would be by mail, depending on where the plan administrator is located, or personal service. There are other methods, but it would depend on the case, and the nature of the plan. After they’re served, with many other cases in California, the plan administrator has 30 days to respond. Typically, this response is not gonna be them contesting the documents, in some cases, they simply file documents to let the court know, here is the council or attorney that represents the plan, or just to confirm that they are active and going to be a part of the case. In some situations, the plan administrator does not respond, and most cases, either way, whether they do, or whether they don’t respond, the process can still move forward.

The timeline for a joinder in California is typically pretty consistent across all family law cases. Initially, the documents are prepared and filed at the court. If you’re completing the documents yourself, you can usually get through ’em the same day and be at the court later that day to file them. If you’re using a professional service, it would depend on their turnaround time, typically no more than a couple business days to a week. At that point, they can be filed at the court, and joinder documents are processed on the spot in most cases. So, essentially, you could take your joinder documents into the family law clerk’s filing office, they will process ’em and file stamp ’em and return the copies to you on the spot. At that point, you can move on to the serving requirements. If you are using a common method like personal service, it may take you a few days to track down a process server, and then a few days once they receive those documents to actually physically deliver ’em to the plan administrator. They, at that point, will send a proof of service either back to you, or to the court, and that would complete the serve requirement. So, process server, maybe no more than two weeks. If you’re completing it by the other common method which would be by mail, it can take a little bit longer.

If you’re mailing the documents in California, they may get there a little sooner. But, there may be a legal department, or a department at the plan administrator who receives it, processes any acknowledgments, and sends anything back. Depending on their mail room, it could be same day, it could take several weeks. If you’re mailing it outta state, it could take a while longer to actually get to the destination, and then it may take just as long for confirmations, acknowledgements to come back to you that you can file at the court. At that point, the joinder process is essentially completed. The documents have been prepared, they’ve been filed at the court, they’ve been served on the plan administrator. And then, in most cases, you would move forward to the qualified domestic relations order, the pension division, or the retirement account division.

A few important things to note on joinders in California is that not all plans will require a joinder. So, a lot of times, people, in preparation of their family law case, or in preparation of retirement after a family law case, their retirement division, or their account holder will tell them, “we do not need a joinder, “we do not know what a joinder is,” and that’s not uncommon, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to process one. As mentioned earlier, the court does require ’em for many plans, and regardless if you’re plan administrator or account does not, if the court requires it for that plan, it does have to be completed so that the court can process the formal pension division or retirement account division.

Another important note is that the joinder does not split the account. It is the initial process prior to the pension division, retirement division, the qualified domestic relations order. So those documents are prepared, filed, served, they can freeze the account, but at that point, they’re still further processing documents and things to do to ultimately get to the end of the account division.

I hope the information that we covered today regarding joinders in California family law cases was helpful. As always, this is not legal advice. It’s a top level procedural overview. If you have specific questions about your case, you should always consult with an attorney, get specific legal advice before moving forward to ensure that your rights are protected and your responsibilities are upheld.