Claim for Travel and Overseas Allowances Expenses

B-197384: Aug 12, 1980

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An accounting officer requested an advance decision concerning the propriety of payment of a claim by an Air Force officer for travel and overseas allowances on account of his children. He was divorced and permanent custody of his children was granted to his former wife. His children joined him overseas a few months after the divorce, traveling on permanent change-of-station orders which authorized concurrent travel. He was paid dependent travel pay and a dislocation allowance at the with dependents rate as well as temporary lodging allowances for himself and his children and housing and cost-of-living allowances based on his two children. The children later returned to their mother at the officer's expense. About a year later, the accounting and finance officer discovered that the officer's divorce decree granted the permanent custody of the children to their mother. Thus it was determined that the travel and housing allowance authorizations for the children were erroneous and the overpayments were collected from the officer. The children returned to live with their father, and he obtained a court order granting him temporary legal custody of his children retroactively. The officer requested payment for housing and cost-of-living allowances based upon his children's presence overseas during the retroactive periods. His request was denied by the Air Force because of the temporary nature of the custody and because custody was granted retroactively. GAO held that, prior to the time the officer obtained temporary legal custody, he was not entitled to dependent benefits. Since the retroactive court order in effect granted him custody and the periods lasted longer than periods of a visit, GAO recognized the retroactive dates for purposes of the travel regulations. He was entitled to housing and cost-of-living allowances at with dependents rates for those periods. As he now has been granted permanent custody of the children, he will be entitled to all future allowances at the with dependents rate and permitted to return his children to the United States at government expense.