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Legal Insider: Divorce and Federal Employee Retirement Benefits

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Reston Town Center that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement, and private sector employee matters.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is the federal agency that processes court orders that properly articulate awards of federal retirement-related benefits to the former spouses of federal employees. The rules governing court-ordered retirement benefits for divorced federal employees and their former spouses are detailed and complex. Therefore, federal employees and their spouses should consider the following general advice if they are facing a divorce involving the division of federal retirement benefits.

  • Be proactive. Federal employees and their spouses should be aware of the special rules governing federal retirement benefits while negotiating the terms of their divorce. We recommend utilizing a family law attorney who is familiar with these specialized regulations and consulting with a federal retirement attorney who can advise on these complex regulations. Far too often, OPM will deny court orders due to the court order’s failure to meet the regulatory requirements. In such case, the parties will most likely need to seek an amendment to their court order in family court and submit the amended court order to OPM for processing.
  • Cover your bases. Federal employees have a variety of different retirement benefits, many of which can be shared or assigned to former spouses after divorce by court order. The family law attorney should be aware of the types of benefits available, including:  a monthly marital share apportionment (i.e., a portion of the federal retiree’s annuity); a survivor annuity benefit; a portion of the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP); and coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefit (FEHB) and the Federal Employees Group Life Insurance (FEGLI) benefits plans. The parties to a divorce can decide the fairest division of these potential assets by familiarizing themselves with each of these types of federal benefits.
  • Pre-retirement check. We recommend that federal employees meet with a federal agency benefits specialist well in advance of their desired retirement date to discuss their retirement. The federal agency benefits specialist should be able to provide guidance and instructions on how to properly complete retirement paperwork and provide a retirement benefits estimate for the federal employee.

In addition, if the federal employee and his/her former spouse wish to create a survivor annuity benefit, this should be done before the federal employee’s date of retirement. It is incredibly difficult, and often times prohibited, to make modifications post-retirement to a survivor annuity benefit. Therefore, we recommend that all potential issues with survivor annuity benefits be confirmed and corrected in advance of the official retirement date.

Given the unique rules that govern federal retirement benefits, it is highly recommended that federal employees utilize an attorney who is familiar with the proper division of federal retirement benefits in court orders.

Our law firm represents and advises federal employees in federal retirement and other employment matters. If you need legal assistance, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at www.berrylegal.com to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryBerryPllc.

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