A joinder is a set of documents that can be filed inside of a family law case (divorce and legal separation being the most common) that identifies major financial accounts and freezes those assets until formal court orders are made. In family law cases in Santa Barbara County Family Law Court, when assets and debts are being divided, pension and retirement accounts are often subject to division. While a court order on property division by the Judge will identify a specific division of the asset, it does not always provide enough language to have the account administrator divide the account. This is another set of documents known as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). A joinder also serves as the initial phase for most QDRO’s in a Santa Barbara County family law court case. Simply put, a joinder can identify and freeze an account during a family law case, and also is required as the initial phase to ultimately divide those accounts in question.

The Joinder Documents: The documents for a joinder are known as Judicial Council forms. These are forms created and used by the California Courts. While the California Courts, and Santa Barbara County family law courts have hundreds of these, there are only a handful that apply to joinders. The first and most common would be the Summons (joinder) FL-375. This form is completed with identifying information about the plan including the account name. This form is not filed at the court, but rather issued by the court. The clerk at Santa Barbara Family Law Courts will stamp a court seal and this serves as a cover sheet when serving the plan administrator, more about that below. Next is a Pleading on Joinder – Employee Benefit Plan – FL-370. This form contains more information about the family law case and also merges in some information about the case such as date of marriage and separation, if a response was filed and if a judgment on property division was entered. This form also includes options for requests the filer is making, including the important request to freeze the account. This could protect the interest in the account until orders are made, for example a spouse is worried the other party may clear the account before they have an order awarding some or all of it to them. Request For Joinder of Employee Benefit Plan And Order – FL-372 is the last in the group that are commonly filed to get the joinder moving in Santa Barbara County Family Law cases. This document is important because it is what the family law clerks in Santa Barbara Courts use as the order. It is stamped and signed by court staff making it an order of the court. The orders typically include a freeze on the account as well as “joining”, bringing the account holder into the court case.

The Serving of the Joinder: Now that the joinder documents have been prepared and filed/processed with the court, the next requirement is process serve. Simply put, the documents need to be given to the plan administrator. The court does not notify the joined party of the documents, but rather leaves that requirement to the filing party. Without this serve, the plan administrator has no idea they even exists. Getting these documents to the plan administrator is what allows them to follow the order issues by the court. A very important phase because if the account administrator does not know about the order, how are they suppose to enforce or apply it to the account in question. There are different options for serving joinders in a Santa Barbara County Court family law case, and most common would be personal service. Any person over 18, not a party to your case can simply personally deliver the documents to the plan administrator. While it may be easy to find a friend or family member to do so, most plan administrators are not located in Santa Barbara, with some even being outside of California. In situations like this, a process server in Santa Barbara may not even be of assistance. You can find process servers local to the plan administrator and for a fee, they will deliver the documents and complete a proof of service to file back at Santa Barbara Family Law Court.  Another propular option is serve by mail. Within this there are 2 common options and simply mailing documents to the administrator does not meet the requirements. For mail, the Court Clerk at your family law court will need to see proof the administrator actually got these documents. For plan administrators outside of California a USPS certified mail with green card return receipt will work. Package the documents and add the appropriate USPS forms and usually within a week or two a certified mail receipt returns to you with a signature from the recipient which can be filed with the proof of service to the court. For plan administrators inside California serve with Notice and Acknowledgment and Receipt meets the serve requirement. This is similar to the mailing option above, but instead of USPS tracking. An additional form is included in the mail (FL-117 Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt) in which when the recipient gets the package they can sign this confirming they received. Instructions will indicate you need to give them 2 copies of this and include a pre addressed and postage paid envelope for them to return this form to you. Again, this will be filed with the proof of service at the court. This option may not always be the best since large account administrators may take a long time to complete and review or may not even sign and return. You can contact your plan and they will let you know the best way to serve them. No matter which option you choose, the court requires that the person served has the appropriate forms to respond or contest. Just like the initial serve on the divorce or legal separation case where the respondant was served with a blank response form, the same applies here. The forms for this joinder process would be FL-373 Responsive Declaration to Motion for Joinder and FL-374 Notice of Appearance and Response of Employee Benefit Plan. Easily enough include these blank forms with the court processed joinder documents when serving the plan administrator.

While this covers the top level aspects of joinders in Santa Barbara County Family Law cases, there are always exceptions and special circumstances. For situations like these, or as a good starting point, a QDRO or Pension Division Attorney in Santa Barbara can help provide guidance. Not all attorneys list QDRO or Pension Divisions, so you can expand your search to Family Law Attorneys in Santa Barbara for more options. Since these documents are more often procedural than contested, Legal Document Assistants in Santa Barbara can also help with preparing, filing and serving.