What Are My Former Spouse’s Rights To My Federal Employee Retirement Benefits?

By Jay Shareef ChFEBC℠ and Chris Rhoads ChFEBC℠ 

If you’re a federal employee going through a divorce, one of the first questions on your mind is probably: What are my former spouse’s rights to my federal employee retirement benefits?

As with most things in life, there’s no black-and-white answer. There are certain retirement benefits that court orders can’t touch, and there are others that are fair game.

Our goal is to run through each of these lists with you today, so you know what your former spouse’s rights may be to your federal employee benefits.

What Federal Employee Retirement Benefits Can Be Impacted By A Court Order?

As I mentioned early, certain federal employee retirement benefits are “fair game” when it comes to state court orders. For example, a judge could rule that you have to:[1]

  • Divide your CSRS or FERS annuity.
  • Divide a retirement contributions refund if you leave your federal job early.
  • Keep your former spouse or your children on your federal health insurance plan.
  • Assign your federal life insurance coverage to your former spouse.
  • Keep your former spouse or your kids as the beneficiary on your federal life insurance policy.
  • Garnish your annuity to pay for alimony or child support.
  • Make distributions from your Thrift Savings Plan to your former spouse.

What Benefits Can’t Be Impacted By A Court Order?

No matter what the court rules on a state level, there are a handful of benefits that can’t be touched based on federal law. For example, a court order can’t legally require you to:[2]

  • Keep a former spouse on your federal dental or vision plan.
  • Enroll in a new federal dental or vision insurance plan just to cover your children.
  • List n former spouse as a “qualified relative” eligible to enroll in the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program.

When Can My Former Spouse Start Claiming My Benefits?

Your former spouse can start claiming your federal employee retirement benefits as soon as you’ve retired and started applying for them. This is different from private-sector pensions where your ex can start collecting benefits at your full retirement age—even if you’re still working and haven’t applied for them yet.

Get Help Now

Sorting through federal employee retirement benefits during a divorce is quite complex. The best way to know what your ex-spouse is entitled to is to talk it over with a professional. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has tons of free resources on its website regarding divorce and separation. Even still, reaching out to a trusted financial advisor who specializes in federal employee benefits may be the best way to quickly get the support and answers you need to make a smooth transition.

At Certa Advisors, we’re a financial planning firm specifically for federal employees. We have several Chartered Federal Employee Benefits Consultants (ChFEBCs) on our team who specialize in the FERS and CSRS retirement systems and can help answer any questions you have. If you’d like professional help figuring out exactly what benefits your ex is entitled to, reach out to us at (301) 798-5250 or schedule a phone call now.

[1] https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets/ri84-1.pdf

[2] https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets/ri84-1.pdf

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