Civil Service Retirement Division Lawyer
In Texas divorce cases, standard retirement plans like 401(k)s and IRAs are commonly divided or exchanged according to the state’s “community property” doctrine. Any assets accumulated during a marriage, including retirement plan contributions, are considered “community property” and subject to division by state courts. However, some couples must also contend with various non-standard retirement plans, which are often subject to unique rules in divorce.
For instance, many federal employees hired prior to 1987 are eligible for pension plans under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). This system provides generous lifetime benefits to retiring civil servants and their spouses. But because CSR distributions are governed by federal laws, dividing the payments for these retirement accounts is rarely simple.
A fair and equitable division of community property is vital in any Texas divorce. With a comprehensive and effective court order, you can protect your share of retirement benefits and keep your financial future secure. However, a narrow or invalid divorce order could leave you with far less than you are owed. That’s why working with a knowledgeable San Antonio retirement division lawyer is essential when CSR pay is on the line.
At Higdon, Hardy & Zuflacht, L.L.P., each of our respected partners is Board Certified in Family Law, a distinction shared by fewer than one in one hundred Texas lawyers. This means our clients have a key advantage in complex and divisive divorce cases. Let us apply our considerable resources and experience to help you safeguard your federal retirement holdings. Call us today at (210) 349-9933 or contact us online to learn more in an initial confidential consultation.
How Do I Keep My Share of CSR Benefits in a Texas Divorce?
If a federal employee made contributions to a CSR account during marriage, those contributions are considered community property. Under Texas law, community property belongs to both spouses, no matter who made the contribution or whose name is on an account. Community property is also divided “equitably” in Texas divorce cases. This means the division must be fair to both spouses, even if it doesn’t result in a 50-50 split.
Many retirement accounts, including CSR holdings, contain both community property and separate property. It can be challenging to split up these “mixed” holdings in any divorce case, and cases involving federal retirement plans have the added complication of strict federal regulations.
Some spouses seek to avoid the hassle of protracted asset divisions by “cashing out” their portion of a retirement account during the divorce settlement. This involves obtaining a court order to exchange money or community assets for the value of your share of the holdings. However, this is not always an equitable solution, especially with assets like CSR accounts, whose value fluctuates over time. And without proper legal precautions, federal law can effectively neutralize the authority of such a divorce order anyway.
This is because divorce orders, which are issued by courts at the state level, have no effect on federal retirement benefits until those benefits are payable to the former employee. In practice, this means a state court order cannot guarantee anyone federal benefits until the civil employee actually retires and applies for the benefits, at which point the account value may have changed dramatically.
To shore up your rightful claim to federal retirement benefits like a CSR plan, you’ll need to plan ahead with a custom divorce order that complies with both state and federal law. If you don’t account for these assets before your divorce is finalized, you could lose the right to collect your full share in the future.
The stakes in these situations are high, and federal compliance is no simple matter, so it’s always best to work with an experienced retirement division attorney. Your lawyer can help you craft a fair, enforceable divorce order in accordance with your needs and in compliance with all relevant laws.
Where Can My Attorney Find the Information They Need About the CSR in My Divorce Case?
The federal government offers only limited bits of information that can help civil servants and former spouses protect CSRS retirement assets in a divorce. This includes both individual agencies and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
Employing agencies can provide details about employment, pay rates, and employees’ retirement coverage and withholdings. However, these details are only available if the employee has never worked for any other agency. If an employee has prior experience with multiple agencies, you can only request information about their past retirement contributions through the OPM.
Even when you know whom to ask for information, the federal government will only agree to release it in response to a subpoena or employee-signed release form. And although government agencies can provide estimates of any benefits that have already been earned, they will not calculate the “present value” of those benefits or the value of contributions that count as community property.
The government also does not speculate on the potential effects of things like future employee promotions or program changes. And should an agency choose to provide an annuity estimate, it isn’t binding on the federal government in any way. The only surefire method for protecting your interests during CSR division in divorce is to seek help from a lawyer who truly understands the relevant state and federal laws.
One important consideration includes any changes to the beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts. On some types of accounts, designations are automatically revoked for former spouses upon divorce. However, you should never assume that this will be the case when it’s time to collect from your plan. Instead, an attorney can help you update beneficiary designations in advance with a clear and effective divorce order.
Contact a Civil Service Retirement Division Attorney Today
If you or your spouse is a former federal employee, you could be entitled to generous benefits for years of commendable service after divorce. The respected team at Higdon, Hardy & Zuflacht, L.L.P. can help you protect your entitlement with a customized and practical divorce order. Call us today at (210) 349-9933 or contact us online to get started with your initial case review.