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Dividing Federal Employee Retirement Benefits After Divorce

Updated: Jul 8, 2018

Spouses and former spouses of federal employees need to be aware of the importance of making sure that the court orders in their divorce case are drafted in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations.   


When granted a divorce from a federal employee, the court may order the division of annuity benefit; when this happens, a court order should be promptly submitted to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for review and implementation.  Spouses and former spouses of federal employees need to be aware of the importance of making sure that the court orders in their divorce case are drafted in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations.   


As per 5 CFR Part 838, a former spouse is only entitled to a portion of an employee’s retirement benefits if the division of those benefits is provided for by a court order acceptable for processing (COAP). To be acceptable for processing, the court order must state the former spouse’s share as a fixed amount, a percentage or a fraction of the annuity, or by a formula whose variables include only that information that is readily attainable from the face of the order or from normal OPM files.


The title of the court order is very important; any court order that is titled, “Qualifying Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)” will be rejected by OPM. This is because the term QDRO is a term created by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and OPM wanted to eliminate any confusion between court orders that refer to ERISA benefits and court orders that apply to federal employee retirement benefits.

Another very important term that each court order should include is a reference to the federal employee’s survivor annuity.  A former spouse of a federal employee is entitled to a survivor annuity only to the extent that it is expressly provided for in a divorce decree or court order issued prior to the retirement date or date of death of the employee.


To make sure that your interest in your former spouse’s retirement benefits are protected, it is important to be sure that the COAP is drafted using the proper terminology and including the necessary provisions.  If you would like to arrange a consultation with Lynette A. Whitfield to discuss your work situation, please call 301.869.8774, or click here make your request for a consultation.

This blog is not intended to provide legal advice or representation, but rather to provide very general information regarding a variety of subject areas. The viewing of the information contained on this blog does not create or establish an attorney-client relationship. Further, this information should not be relied upon without first consulting with an attorney regarding your specific situation.