In California divorce cases, some necessary procedures and documents sound ominous, but they are not. Instead, they are part of a procedure required to split certain assets that ultimately become part of a final decree. A Court Order Acceptable for Processing (COAP) is one of those proceedings.
Understanding a COAP
This is a legal ruling that occurs only in divorce cases where one of the spouses is a U.S. government employee. It’s a legal ruling that grants an ex-spouse of a federal employee the right to receive all or part of a government retirement plan. This marital assets settlement order determines guidelines on how the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) will pay benefits from certain retirement accounts. In addition to an ex-spouse, a dependent may also be part of the COAP. A state court must approve the COAP and only determines how to divide assets in FERS and CERS plans. A COAP does not affect qualified retirement plans like simplified employee pension plans (SEPs), employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), profit-sharing plans, and 401(k)s, as the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) governs those investments. The courts require a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) to determine asset distribution for those investments.
You may need a COAP and a QDRO
Dividing marital assets in retirement accounts can be challenging. In addition to determining their value, you need the correct court documents to allow the division to occur. They also must have the proper language, as the OPM will not process a COAP with vague or flawed directives.
If your COAP is vague, you must return to a California court to rectify the wording. If you and your ex-spouse have a dispute over the division, you’ll also have to work that out in court before proceeding to the OPM.