If you are heading for a divorce, you need to know about the “Spouse Equity Act.” That’s because a court order filed with the Office of Personnel Management under its provisions can have a profound impact on your future benefits. The same is true if you are separated or if your marriage was – or will be – annulled.
Among other things, a properly filed court order can divide your retirement annuity, block or divide a refund of your retirement contributions, and provide for a survivor annuity if you die. 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 (TSP) account.
Such a court order is only binding if it meets the requirements set down in laws that apply to CSRS and FERS. That’s because CSRS and FERS are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). That’s the law that applies to everyone else in the U.S.
Because of those differences, OPM has a publication that spells everything out. It’s 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 by going to the following web site: www.opm.gov/asd.
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 essential document in order to protect your interests. You, on the other hand, should get a copy of OPM’s non-technical booklet on the subject. It’s RI 84-1, Court-ordered Benefits for Former Spouses. Copies may be available in your personnel offices or you can download a copy by going to www.opm.gov/retire.
Just remember, once a court-ordered settlement has been reached and filed, it’s rarely subject to change. The terms of the order will be precisely carried out by OPM and the TSP unless your obligations are canceled, for example, by the death of your spouse.