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Federal employee divorces pose special concerns

Division of assets and property after a divorce is almost always a difficult process. However, and additional wrinkle emerges when one or both of the spouses works as a federal employee.

Generally, divorces involving federal employees follow the same property division parameters as divorces between private-sector couples. However, federal employee divorces can sometimes be more complicated because federal employee benefits are governed by their own set of laws. For this reason, it's important to choose an experienced federal employee divorce lawyer who understands these rules.

Division of Federal Employee Retirement Benefits

Usually, federal employees are primarily concerned with what could happen to their Civil Service Retirement System and Federal Employees Retirement System accounts in the event of a divorce.

In a divorce, a judge can order the division of benefits payable under a CSRS or FERS annuity. The judge can also order the division of CSRS or FERS employee retirement contributions. Federal employee retirement benefits can also be garnished for alimony or child support payments and in cases involving child abuse.

The rules pertaining to the division of federal pensions differ from those governing private-sector retirement benefits in one very important respect. In many private-sector divorces, an ex-spouse will become eligible to receive his or her share of a employee's retirement benefits as soon as the employee reaches retirement age. However, an ex-spouse who is entitled to a share of a federal employee's retirement benefit will have to wait until the benefit is actually payable. This means that in addition to reaching the eligibility threshold, the federal employee must also have made a proper application for benefits.

A court order may also give ex-spouse an entitlement to survivor benefits under a federal employees' CSRS or FERS plan. This option is only available if the couple was married for a minimum of nine months. However, unless the couple was married for at least 30 years, the survivor annuity will end if the ex-spouse remarries before reaching age 55.

The division of federal retirement benefits is just one of the many unique issues involved in a federal employee divorce. If you are considering a divorce and you or your spouse is a federal employee, make sure you choose an experienced attorney who understands your special needs.

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