Recently, I had lunch with a former client who is a member of the Montgomery County Police force. He mentioned that some fellow officers were in need of a good family law attorney. That got me thinking about divorce as it relates to police officers and, more broadly, to government employees. Does our representation vary for a police officer versus a private sector employee like a business owner? Are there special requirements for civil servants? Are there unique challenges?
The first question to ask is whether there is any difference for government employees than, say, for our business owner? What is different? Of course, the laws are the same for government employees and our business owner. The real difference comes down to financial considerations. At its core, divorce is a financial exercise. A divorce divides the assets acquired during the marriage (read more about Maryland Divorce and DC Divorce and the Court’s process.) Our business owner may differ from a civil servant by having more readily available liquid assets, equity in the business for example, which may be considered marital property and subject to the Court’s jurisdiction. For the government employee financial remuneration is different. They aren’t building equity in a company or receiving large annual payouts in the form of bonuses or profits. Instead, much of the wealth generated by government employees is realized in long term benefits, things like pensions and lifetime healthcare. Just like the equity built by the business owner, these benefits have an economic value and may be considered martial property and, therefore, fair game.
Part of the divorce process is to determine what is or isn’t marital property and then establish a value. These two issues are typically the battleground in a divorce. Once the value and proper division of assets has been established then it’s a matter of figuring out how to equitably transfer wealth. For example, a police officer can’t transfer their lifetime healthcare benefit to an ex. They can, however, transfer an equitable amount in cash.
So, to answer our question regarding differences in family law representation, the short answer is that the representation doesn’t change for government employees, only the financial aspects. Three assets that we frequently see involved in divorce with civil servants include:
- Pensions – part of the overall compensation package for civil servants is very often a pension. These are typically a focus in divorce proceedings.
- Retirement Plans – an additional component of compensation is the Thrift Savings Plan, or other state or county sponsored retirement plans. Yet another marital asset for equitable distribution.
- Healthcare Benefits – many government employees and military personnel receive lifetime healthcare privileges. The Court will view these as an asset and often include them in marital property.
Of course, a divorce often involves other issues like child support or child custody. If you are in the process of a divorce it is best to speak with a family law attorney. The circumstances in each individual’s proceedings are unique and merit an individual conversation.