The following information may help you and your attorney understand your Federal benefits and avoid costly mistakes in preparing court orders to divide benefits. The way to avoid mistakes is for your attorney to use the publication RI 83-116, 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.
The Handbook for Attorneys contains the laws and regulations applicable to court orders in divorces and legal separations, and provides the model language accepted by OPM. It can be printed from the Office of Personnel Management's web site.
CIVIL SERVICE RETIREMENT SYSTEM (CSRS) or
FEDERAL EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM (FERS)
Court orders that effect private sector pensions are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). However, ERISA does NOT apply to Federal pensions, such as the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).
A court order that divides retirement benefits under ERISA, called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), is not acceptable to effect CSRS or FERS benefits unless it expressly states that it is written in conformity with Office of Personnel Management (OPM) regulations. The Handbook for Attorneys provides the requirements.
These retirement publications may be useful and can be printed from OPM's web sites:
If your attorney requests a copy of your benefits statement, you may provide the Personal Benefits Statement issued to you by the USDA National Finance Center (NFC) each spring. If you did not keep a copy of your last statement, you may obtain another copy by using your personal page at the NFC website. You need to have your Social Security number and your NFC personal identification number (PIN) to this website. If you do not have this PIN, you may request one at this website. Once you have entered this secure website, you can click on Personal Benefits to view and print the information. Other useful documents at the NFC Personal Page are copies of your Statements of Earnings and Leave, and W-2's for prior years.
If your attorney requests the amount of your contributions to the retirement fund, you may provide a copy of your latest Statement of Earnings and Leave. The upper left corner of this form shows the amount of retirement contributions since your last appointment with USDA. If you worked for other Federal agencies, or had a break in service with USDA, your record of prior CSRS or FERS contributions are maintained by OPM, and you may request this information by writing to the Office of Personnel Management, Employee Service and Records Center, Boyers, Pennsylvania 17016. Be sure to include your full name, social security number, date of birth, the Federal agencies and dates of service.
You may contact your servicing Benefits Specialist for a review of creditable service for retirement, and if you are already eligible to retire, or will be eligible within 5 years, a CSRS or FERS annuity estimate. OPM makes the official CSRS or FERS annuity calculations only at the time benefits become payable (retirement or death).
Please be aware that while your servicing Benefits Specialist may be able to provide information about your Federal benefits to you, we are not authorized to advise you, your spouse, or your attorneys, on how to draft a court order to divide or award your Federal benefits. This is the responsibility of a qualified legal representative.
THRIFT SAVINGS PLAN (TSP)
If your attorney requests information on the amount in your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account, you may provide a copy of your latest TSP Participant statement, issued quarterly by the TSP Office. To obtain your current account balance, or copies of previous TSP Participant statements, you may access your account at TSP's web site, www.tsp.gov, or call the Thriftline at 1-877-968-3778. You will need your Social Security number and your TSP Personal Identification Number (PIN). If you do not have a TSP PIN, you may request one at this web site or phone number, and it will be mailed to your address on record.
At the TSP web site, under Civilian Forms and Publications, you will find the following useful information:
Your attorney will need to use the TSP Court Order booklet to develop the court order for the division of TSP benefits.
FEDERAL EMPLOYEES HEALTH BENEFITS (FEHB)
When you divorce, your spouse is no longer a family member and cannot be covered under your FEHB family enrollment. If you do not have dependent children who will remain covered under your plan, you must complete an SF-2809, Health Benefits Registration Form, to change to a self only enrollment when you become divorced. If you do have dependent children who will remain covered under your plan, you are required to notify your health plan that your former spouse is no longer an eligible family member effective the date of divorce.
Your former spouse may be eligible to elect Federal Employees Health Benefits under the temporary continuation of coverage provision, or the Spouse Equity provision. See OPM's Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce. You or your former spouse must contact your servicing Benefits Specialist within 60 days of the divorce for information on how to enroll. The plans and premiums are shown in the annual RI-70-5, Temporary Continuation of Coverage (TCC) and Former Spouse Enrollees.
If you lose health benefits coverage as a result of divorce, you may be eligible to enroll in the FEHB program by submitting a completed SF-2809, Health Benefits Registration Form, to your servicing Benefits Specialist within 60 days of the divorce. Proof of divorce or loss of coverage is required with the SF-2809. For complete information on FEHB go to the OPM website.
FEDERAL EMPLOYEES GROUP LIFE INSURANCE (FEGLI)
If you are covered by FEGLI, be aware that Option C Family coverage on your spouse ends at divorce, and if you do not have eligible children who are covered, you must elect to cancel Option C coverage. To elect to cancel some or all of your optional insurance, you must complete the SF-2817, Life Insurance Election Form, signing only for Basic life, and options you wish to keep. Please note that opportunities to increase your life insurance are limited.
You may irrevocably assign your life insurance coverage if you need to comply with a court order for divorce requiring that you name your former spouse as the life insurance beneficiary.
Go to OPM complete information on the FEGLI program, including the FE-76-21, FEGLI Booklet for Federal Employees, forms, and frequently asked questions.
DESIGNATIONS OF BENEFICIARY
You may wish to consider changing designations of beneficiary for your various benefits. If you previously designated your ex-spouse and you now want payments to go to someone else, you need to file new designations because a divorce does not automatically affect any designations you made at an earlier date.
For forms and more information.
Questions concerning Social Security benefits payable to divorced spouses should be referred to your local Social Security office, or call Social Security's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 any business day between 7:00 am and 7:00 pm. For more information, go to the SSA website.
FEDERAL FLEXIBLE SPENDING ACCOUNT (FSAFEDS)
Divorce may be a qualifying life event to make a change to your FSAFEDS account (within 60 days after the divorce). Go to the FSAFEDs website and read the Qualified Status Changes Fact Sheet under Forms and Literature. Call an FSAFEDS expert at 1-877-372-3337 if you have any questions.
If your name changes as a result of divorce, ask your supervisor or administrative office to submit an SF-52, Request for Personnel Action, to change your name on your personnel/payroll records.
If you buy savings bonds through payroll deduction, please submit new bond forms, to change your address and/or to change co-owner/beneficiary designations. Bond forms are available in our Forms Library.
To change your address, please submit a completed AD-349, Change of Address.
To change your income tax withholding, please submit a separate form W-4 for Federal and, if applicable, for State withholding.
You may use the NFC Personal Page to make address and tax changes instead of submitting forms to Human Resources.
The Federal Trade Commission offers advice regarding credit and divorce.
(For employees of USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs and the Merit Systems Protection Board)