The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a retirement plan for Federal employees and uniformed service members similar to a civilian “401(k)” plan.
Why does it matter if I have a TSP account?
During your divorce, your TSP matters because the Court may divide it during an equitable distribution hearing. An equitable distribution hearing is when the Court determines how the spouses’ property will be divided upon divorce. It is always best to avoid the Court determining the division of your property if at all possible. This can be accomplished with a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA), a document that both parties sign after agreeing with one another on the division of their property instead of allowing the Court to do so. Knowing whether your spouse has a TSP and the value of the TSP is critical to negotiations when determining property distribution upon divorce.
I have a number of different TSP accounts because I was in the military and I am now a civilian…must all the TSP accounts be considered in my divorce?
Yes. If you have more than one type of TSP account or beneficiary account, all of them will likely be considered as property for purposes of dividing your marital estate. An exception is accounts that were contributed to prior to the marriage in full or in part.
When can my account be divided?
Once your divorce decree has been endorsed by the Court, your TSP account can be divided by Court Order. This division must be defined either by an Order or by a court-approved Property Settlement Agreement pursuant to the divorce. This seems straight forward enough, but it’s very important to retain experienced legal counsel when you have a TSP. The TSP office can only consider the division of your TSP if there is specific language stated in the Court Order. Without this language, satisfying the requirements of the United States Code, an Order to receive from your spouse’s TSP will not be honored, nor will the division of one’s TSP to his/her spouse be honored. This may seem like a minor issue, but failing to comply with the terms of your Court Order may result in severe legal consequences.
If my spouse has a TSP account, can I get information about it?
Yes. The TSP office will assist spouses by providing the participant’s, or beneficiary participant’s, account balance, outstanding loan balance, if any, and quarterly and annual account statements. This can only be provided upon written request. Please note that at no time will the TSP office provide the social security number, address, or birth date of the participant to the requesting spouse; it is your job to provide that information to them.
To make a request, please contact the TSP Legal Processing Unit at P.O. Box 4390, Fairfax, Virginia 22038 or fax them at 703-592-0151. You must include in your request (1) the participant’s, or beneficiary participant’s, name and TSP account number or social security number, (2) your identity and relationship to the participant, (3) the information needed, and (4) the purpose for your request.
What if my spouse decides to withdraw money out of the TSP?
To prevent withdrawal of funds from your spouse’s TSP account, it is important that you obtain a Court Order as soon as possible. Once the TSP office receives a valid Court Order dividing the TSP account, it will place a freeze on all funds. This will prevent new loans or withdrawals, but it will not prevent the participant from making investment decisions or payments on any existing loans.
What about my Designation of Beneficiary form…can I change it if my TSP account is divided with my ex-spouse?
Absolutely! Even in the event of a divorce, the TSP office is required to pay the beneficiary listed by law. This means, you must change the Designation of Beneficiary form beneficiary to reflect who is to receive your portion of your TSP or the last listed beneficiary will get your portion, even if that person is your ex-spouse! If you have not ever filed a Designation of Beneficiary form, the TSP office will pay your death benefits in the following order: your spouse; your children; descendants of your deceased children; your parents; your executor or administrator of your estate; or your next of kin entitled to your estate by operation of law.
Can my TSP be garnished?
Yes. With a valid order, writ, summons, or other document, your TSP account or your spouse’s TSP account can be garnished to force payment of a child or spousal support obligation. Again, it is important to seek legal counsel because the TSP office can only garnish your TSP account or your spouse’s TSP account if the Order meets specific requirements.
What else should I know?
Though we have boiled down the important points of the TSP, there are many other considerations when a TSP account is at issue. It’s important to ask questions regarding TSP tax treatments, calculation of benefit amounts for division for account funds, timing of payments, transfers, and the special rules for uniformed services accounts. These are all things that your Attorney should consider and explain to you when you or your spouse’s TSP is at issue during a divorce or when a garnishment scenario arises. You can, however, read Court Orders and Powers of Attorney, a TSP office publication, to get more information so that you know what to ask your Attorney when you meet with him or her.
Who should I contact if I have further questions?
If you have questions or concerns regarding a TSP account, please contact us at Holcomb Law at 757-659-1233 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you might visit the TSP website directly at https://www.tsp.gov/lifeevents/spouse/separation.shtml or call them at 1-877-968-3778 (TTY 1-877-847-4385).