Who Said Divorce Would be Cheap (or Fair)?

When the former wife of a retired federal employee was given 53% of his monthly annuity payment, the retired fed was unhappy with OPM so he appealed to MSPB and then to a federal court. After all the litigation: the federal retiree gets less than his former wife.

A retired fed, unhappy with the Office of Personnel Management’s decision to award his ex-wife 53% of his monthly retirement annuity, was unsuccessful in getting the Federal Circuit to overturn the decision. (Hasandaka v. Office of Personnel Management, C.A.F.C. No. 2007-3205 (nonprecedential), 9/13/07)

In a divorce proceeding, the Indiana court ordered that Hasandaka’s ex-wife was entitled to 53% of her husband’s gross civil service annuity, and directed OPM to pay her share directly to her. (Opinion p. 1) On review of the order, OPM decided it was valid and that it would comply. (p. 2)

Hasandaka was not happy with this development and appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board. He argued that OPM regulations prohibited them from giving his ex-wife a greater share than he, as the annuitant, received, and that the court order should not be honored by OPM because it was not "clear and specific," as required by OPM regulations. (p. 2)

The Board rejected these arguments and upheld the OPM determination. Now, the appeals court upholds the Board and the OPM.

The court rejects the first argument since it is based on the "CSRS and FERS Handbook" issued by OPM. "That document, however, is just that: a ‘handbook’ designed to guide personnel…It does not create any legally enforceable rights in annuitants or employees." (p. 3) The court goes on to state that "Nothing in the handbook states, or even suggests, that OPM cannot pay, pursuant to a divorce decree, a higher percentage of an annuitant’s gross income to his former wife than it pays to him." (p. 3)

The only practical limit is the net annuity amount.

As to the second argument on the clarity of the state court’s order, the court found it to be pretty straight forward and therefore enforceable by OPM.

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.