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Divorce for Federal Employees in Washington and Maryland

Washington, DC and the surrounding suburbs in Maryland such as Bethesda, Rockville, Potomac, North Potomac, Gaithersburg, Silver Spring, and other places in Montgomery and Prince Georges (PG) Counties are home to more federal government employees that just about any other place in the nation.  With so many federal agencies being housed in Washington, DC and Maryland, it is easy to understand why this is the case.

As one might expect, with there being many more federal employees in the DMV area than any other place in the country, there are a greater number of federal employees getting divorced.  While federal employees still have to deal with child support, property division, and alimony issues, just like any other married couple, there are some additional considerations that tend to complicate matters.

Why is Divorce for Federal Employees Different than Private Sector Employees?

The reason a divorce in Maryland or the District of Columbia is often different for federal employees than private sector employees is because federal employees typically have federal benefits, and the Office of Personnel Management has different technical requirements for handling pensions and other retirement benefits, such as Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) in the event of a divorce.  

You may be wondering why this is so important.  While it might not seem important at the time, and a judge will not normally bring the issue up if the parties do not bring it up, it can lead to major problems many years later, and it may be very difficult to correct later on.  In the worst case scenario, and this does happen, the parties could get divorced and years later the federal employee (then retired federal employee) dies.  

The ex-spouse might still be the beneficiary on the plan, because this cannot simply be changed without a special type of court order, and to make matters worse, not only does the former spouse get the money, the federal employee’s estate may end up having to pay the taxes instead of the former spouse who gets the money. If the federal employee got remarried before he or she dies, basically this could mean the former spouse gets the money and the new spouse pays the taxes.  This is obviously something you wish to avoid, so you speak with your experienced Washington, DC or Maryland divorce attorney about preparing what is known as Court Order Acceptable for Processing (COAP).   

A COAP is generally needed for employees who have a FERS or a CSRS retirement plan.  You may also need your attorney to draft a document to transfer funds your TSP.

It should be noted that many federal employees will retire once they are eligible and then may take a job in the private sector.  This may mean that they have a private sector plan in addition to any federal retirement programs.  In this case, your attorney will also have to assist you in preparing what is known as a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO).  A QDRO, pronounced Quad Roh, is similar to a COAP, and is needed when a party has private retirement plans.  The financial organizations that manage these plans have very detailed requirements for a QDRO, and they are generally quick to reject an improperly completed form.  This is a problem, since the case is normally over once you find out, so you want to make sure to get it right on the first try to avoid problems and expenses.

If you are a federal employee who needs assistance with a divorce or other family law matter in Washington, DC or Maryland, please feel free to contact the Law Offices of Daniel A. Gross, PLLC.