Getting a military pension division order honored by the retired pay center isn't easy. What does the order need to say? Is there "magic language" which must be included? Where do you send the order? Who does the processing? This two-part article contains tips for the practitioner on how to get the job done seamlessly.
TIP #1: WHERE DO I START?
Retired pay orders for the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, as well as the National Guard and Reserves, are processed by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), located in Cleveland, Ohio. DFAS has numerous lawyers and paralegals reviewing the many decrees subpoenas and court orders which arrive there every day. There is a substantial rejection rate.
Pension orders for members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve are sent to the USCG Pay and Personnel Center (www.dcms.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Assistant-Commandant-for-Human-Resources-CG-1/Pay-and-Personnel-Center-PPC/) located in Topeka, Kansas. Orders for the commissioned corps of the Public Health Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are also serviced by the Coast Guard PPC.
The two basic issues in the division of retirement benefits are "pension share" and the survivor annuity. These tips tell how to write and get approved an order for division of military retired pay as property, and how to obtain coverage under the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). The title "retired pay center" will be used to refer to the above two offices which process applications for a division of uniformed services retired pay under USFSPA, the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. (1) Note that USFSPA refers to the retired pay center as the "designated agent." (2)
TIP #2: KNOW YOUR RESOURCES
Read closely the provisions of 10 U.S.C. 1408 to understand what the law requires for military pension division. The SBP statute is found at 10 U.S.C. 1447 et. seq.
DFAS has a pension division implementing regulation, the DoDFMR (Department of Defense Financial Management Regulation). (3) The Coast Guard follows DFAS guidance and there is a useful USCG pamphlet, "FSPA and SBP, 8th Edition."
The DFAS website is www.dfas.mil, and the fact sheets and application forms needed are at the "Retired Military and Annuitants" tab. At the end of Chapter 29 of Vol. 7b, DoDFMR, you'll find two sample military pension orders (Figures 29-1 and 29-2). The practitioner can import that language into an order for pension division. Read this order closely. If you vary from the language recommended here, you'll probably have your pension order rejected. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can write it up better than the folks at DFAS who are going to be processing the order; you probably can't. And if your order is rejected, you'll have to explain to your client why the payments are still not flowing, or the legal bill keeps going up; or that you still have not finished with his or her case, although you're "trying really hard" to do so!
Note that there are two significant omissions in the sample order. First, it is silent...