Apportioning Retirement Benefits to Former Spouses of Federal Employees

FPCD-80-56: Published: Jul 28, 1980. Publicly Released: Aug 27, 1980.

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In an examination of the economic protection provided to widows or widowers and divorced spouses of Federal employees, GAO evaluated the equity of the current law, its administration by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and some possible alternative methods of providing retirement income to former spouses. The law requires OPM to comply with State court orders or decrees that divide civil service retirement benefits in divorce actions.

As of March 1980, OPM had received 261 court orders requesting apportionment of retirement benefits; only 30 of them were not honored. In general, GAO believes that the current provisions in the civil service and Foreign Service retirement systems allowing the courts to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether and in what amounts retirement benefits should be apportioned between Federal retirees and their former spouses are preferable to automatic apportionment of these benefits as has been proposed in legislation now before Congress. Except for garnishment, the uniformed services retirement system does not allow direct payment of retirement benefits to former spouses in compliance with court orders. Under Social Security, divorced spouses are entitled to an amount equal to 50 percent of the retired worker's benefit if the marriage lasted at least 10 years; the retiree's benefit is not reduced, and a second spouse may also receive benefits. Full survivor benefits are also guaranteed to divorced spouses after 10 years of marriage. The extension of social security to all Federal personnel, with appropriate redesign of the civil service and other Federal retirement systems to supplement social security where necessary, is an alternative approach. GAO has supported and called for expanded social security coverage as one of the needed policy changes to insure greater equity and consistency in Federal retirement programs.

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