Fedweek

The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association has filed suit against OPM’s reversal in 2016 of a longstanding policy regarding how a divorce court order affects FERS annuity benefits.

OPM decided at the time that a divorce order apportioning a portion of a FERS retiree’s benefits to a former spouse applies automatically to a FERS “special retirement supplement” as well as to the basic FERS civil service annuity. The supplement, which approximates the value of a Social Security benefit earned while a federal employee, is paid to those who retire before age 62 until they reach that age, when regular Social Security benefits begin. The prior policy was that divorce awards did not reduce the supplement unless they specifically divided that benefit.

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OPM applied the new policy to ongoing payments and also recomputed them retroactive to the date an individual’s supplement was first paid, reducing annuities to make up for what it determined to be underpayments to the former spouses.

The action was controversial from the start, and the inspector general of OPM found in 2017 that agency management had failed to meet its obligation to go through formal rule-making before carrying it out and had no authority to apply it retroactively. In one of several cases the IG examined, that resulted in a debt to the former spouse of more than $28,000.

In its complaint, the law officers association took similar positions, arguing before the court that under the law, OPM is to administer decisions of state courts in divorce cases “in a purely ministerial fashion.”