An Ounce of Prevention and All That Jazz

Here’s a recent comment that points up, yet again, what I have been preaching here for nearly 12 years now since my own federal (CSRS) divorce.

There is more to this business, WAY more to this federal divorce business, than the average attorney, conversant with your typical ‘garden variety’ QDRO understands.

Now I am not an attorney, so this is all my personal opinion/guidance, but I do have substantial experience in the field .. been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

Here’s the readers question, edited slightly for readability … and my comments, intertwined:

 I retired on 12/31/2011. The Office of Personnel Management didn’t start processing my retirement until about June 1, 2012. I received a letter saying they had to have my divorce decree in order to proceed with processing.

Get the Orders right the First Time. COAP’s are NOT QDRO’s

What’s a little unclear to me here is when the reader’s divorce occurred and when s/he had the ‘final orders” in-hand.  Typically, although the “divorce decree” or “final orders” are the governing document, it is very much advisable to submit a separate COAP (Court order Acceptable for Processing) in order to divide a federal pension.  In fact, in most cases, the final divorce decree is NOT going to suffice for a specific COAP.

Also, the COAP is the only real chance for the parties in the divorce to clearly and unequivocally order the methodology and the details of dividing the pension.  In most cases that I am familiar with, courts will retain jurisdiction in the case until the annuity (retirement) is actually divided.

Usually the COAP needs to be drafted, finalized and then signed by both sides and the court before the divorce decree is finalized.

However, what was done in your case may be perfectly legal and acceptable in your jurisdiction (again, I’m not a attorney), but for sure this is a matter for you to take to your attorney, ASAP … I doubt most laymen will ‘get it right’ even after several tries, and even more importantly, as a party to the case you run the risk of getting things thrown out because of issues with the “other side” or facing later legal battles if you try to order divisions on your own.

Nobody likes t spend money on a lawyer, but trust me, big time n this, the $500 or so you will pay an attorney who specializes in federal divorce for assistance and drafting of your COAP will come back to you many fold.  My opinion is, you can NOT ‘fix’ this on your own, get help now.

I sent them a copy of the divorce decree and on August 7 received a reply. I received two different letters in the package, one a form letter and one addressed specifically to my issues. The one specific to me stated that among other things they were unable to process this court order under Part 838, Title 5 CFR; the court issuing the order does not satisfy the definition of a court; the court order does not expressly divide annuity; and that they would accept an amended court order for apportionment purposes. I need to know how to proceed.

These issues may well all be valid.  More importantly, if OPM has decided they are valid, then it’s going to be incumbent upon you to prove them wrong.

Here’s a snip from the OPM manual on COAPS regarding which courts are allowed to submit orders and how the orders for division must give specific instructions

B. Which Courts For purposes of this section, “court” means any court of any State, the Can Issue Order District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, or the Virgin Islands, and any Indian court.

C. Content of Order  The court order should specify exactly what it wants OPM to do.
1.  The court order must expressly provide for payment of a portion of the employee’s or retiree’s monthly annuity (or contributions); and
2.  The spouse’s share must be stated as fixed amount, a percentage or a fraction of the annuity, or be expressed as a formula whose value is readily apparent from the face of the order or normal OPM files.
3.  If the apportionment amount is derived using a formula, percentage, or fraction, the order must specify the type of annuity to which the formula, percentage, or fraction is to be applied–self-only, gross, or net.
NOTE: Apportionment orders concerning CSRS and FERS are not subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA forms should not be used.  See more at:

http://www.opm.gov/retire/pubs/handbook/C005.pdf

Again, I urge you to get an attorney who knows his/her stuff on these court orders, and stop trying to do it for yourself.  You already have lost a ton of time, and the delays and backlog in processing annuities is not likely to get any better soon, so take action sooner rather than later.  Godspeed.