Federal Retirement Benefits for Divorced Spouses

By Heather Frances J.D.

Divorce can impact various types of retirement benefits, making some retirement savings accounts eligible for division and effecting the divorced spouse's eligibility for others. Federal retirement systems generally permit state courts to split federal pensions as part of a divorce, but survivor benefits and Social Security benefits have special rules.

Divorce can impact various types of retirement benefits, making some retirement savings accounts eligible for division and effecting the divorced spouse's eligibility for others. Federal retirement systems generally permit state courts to split federal pensions as part of a divorce, but survivor benefits and Social Security benefits have special rules.

Splitting Federal Benefits

As with other retirement benefits, a state court can divide federal benefits at the time a couple divorces. This includes federal retirement systems, thrift savings plans and military benefits. The amount of benefit given to each spouse can vary by state law based on the circumstances of the divorce and how long the spouses were married while the benefits were being earned. For example, spouses who were married for most of the federal employee's working years might be more likely to see an equal split of benefits. Spouses can agree to a method of splitting the benefits or let the court decide the issue.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Valuing and Distributing Federal Benefits

It can be difficult to determine a value for federal retirement benefits, particularly when the benefits are not fully earned or when the spouses were married for only a short time while the benefits were being earned. For example, the employee spouse's monthly contributions may not directly relate to the value of the pension he will ultimately receive. Divorcing spouses can hire a financial expert to analyze their situation and appropriate valuation methods. Benefits typically must be divided through a Court Order Acceptable for Processing, which is similar to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order required to divide other types of retirement plans. These orders are not identical, however, so it is important to ensure that each plan's order appropriately divides the benefits.

Survivor Benefits

The federal retirement system offers employees the option to sign up for survivor benefits to be paid to the surviving spouse when the employee spouse's benefits are discontinued due to his death. Employees generally elect these benefits at the time of retirement -- and a divorce decree can order the employee spouse to pay for the survivor benefit for the non-employee spouse. The federal retirement systems allow some survivor benefit adjustments as a result of a divorce. Courts can also order the employee spouse to purchase life insurance to compensate for the financial loss to his ex-spouse if he dies first.

Social Security

A divorce court cannot divide Social Security retirement benefits. These benefits are based on federal rules. A divorced spouse can collect Social Security benefits based on her retired ex-spouse's earnings record if the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the spouse seeking benefits is unmarried and at least age 62. Further, the benefit the spouse would receive based on her own work history must be less than what she would receive based on her ex-spouse's work history -- and the working ex-spouse must actually be entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Federal Pensions & Divorce

References

Related articles

VA Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Most military benefits to a spouse automatically terminate once a divorce is finalized, but some former military spouses are entitled to benefits even after the marriage ends. Federal laws provide some protections to former spouses of service members regarding retirement pay and base privileges. Some former spouses of long-time service members are entitled to continuing health benefits.

Is QDRO Necessary in the Dissolution of a Marriage?

A Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO, is not always necessary in a marriage dissolution. A QDRO is required when a divorce court awards part of one spouse's employer-provided retirement plan to the other spouse. If the divorce court doesn't divide the employer-provided retirement plan, or the retirement plan isn't provided by the employer, you won't need a QDRO for your divorce.

Military Divorce Benefits When Married Less Than 10 Years

Losing access to military benefits can be one of the most difficult financial hits a non-military spouse faces in divorce. The applicable federal law, called the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act -- known as the USFSPA -- addresses the circumstances under which a non-military spouse can keep military benefits. Generally, spouses do not receive any military benefits for marriages less than 20 years.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Divorce Laws and State Pension Plans in Oklahoma

Oklahoma state employees may qualify for state-administered retirement plans, including the Oklahoma Public Employees ...

Can an Ex-Wife Get Retirement Pay From the Husband if He Retired After the Divorce?

Courts divide marital property -- including retirement benefits -- when a couple divorces. Even if a spouse has not yet ...

Social Security Benefits for a Non-Working Spouse After a Divorce

Social Security administers retirement and disability insurance programs. To be eligible for benefits, you must earn ...

Tips Regarding a Husband's Retirement Benefits in a Divorce

Financial disputes take center stage in many divorces and a court may decide how a couple must divide their assets ...

Browse by category