Divorcing spouses need a special court order to protect their right to tap a partner’s retirement benefits, the Pension Rights Center said Wednesday.

Without a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO), “people going though divorce could neglect a significant portion of the marital assets and put themselves at risk of economic insecurity in retirement,” the center said in a bulletin.

A qualified domestic relations order is a special court order granting an ex-spouse the right to a portion of the retirement benefits a former spouse earned via an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

The order is the only way a divorcee can ensure his or her rights to a former spouse’s retirement benefits, the center said.

The center strongly recommended getting the court order during divorce proceedings because waiting years later can mean additional attorney expenses and potentially waiting years to get the retirement fund money.

When going through a divorce, the center said a spouse should contact his or her partner’s retirement plan directly if the partner has not been forthcoming with information about the account.

The center has posted a fact sheet with more information on how to obtain a QDRO.