Under the Spouse Equity Act. a court order can divide your retirement annuity, block or divide a refund of your retirement contributions, and provide for a survivor annuity on your death. In addition, it can allow a former spouse to continue coverage under the FEHB program, require you to assign your FEGLI benefits to that former spouse or your children, and even lay claim to some of the money in your Thrift Saving Plan account.

The legal document that controls what happens is the Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO). However, to be binding on you, it must conform to the legal requirements that apply exclusively to CSRS and FERS. That’s because CSRS and FERS are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which applies to everyone else.

To help you understand those differences, the OPM has published RI 38-116, A Handbook for Attorneys on Court-ordered Retirement, Health Benefits and Life Insurance Under the Civil Service Retirement System, Federal Employees Retirement System, Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, and Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Program. You can download it at: https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets/ri38-116.pdf.

Whether you are on the initiating or receiving end of a separation, divorce or annulment proceeding, your attorney needs to have a copy of this document to protect your interests.

If you’d like a reader-friendly version of the handbook, OPM has published RI 84-1, a non-technical booklet titled Court-ordered Benefits for Former Spouses at https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets/ri84-1.pdf.