Marital Advice For Those Nearing Retirement

Tips on answering what can be a tricky question on your retirement application.

There is one question on federal retirement application forms that seems very simple, but can cause difficulty if you’re not sure how to answer it correctly.

Here is the question as it appears on the Federal Employees Retirement System and Civil Service Retirement System Forms:

FERS Application for Immediate Retirement, SF-3107, Section C:  Do you have a living former spouse(s) to whom a court order gives a survivor annuity, or a portion of your retirement benefits based on your Federal employment? 

CSRS Application for Immediate Retirement, SF-2801, Section E: Do you have a living former spouse(s) from whom you were divorced on or after May 7, 1985, and to whom a court order gives a survivor annuity or awards a portion of your retirement based on your federal employment?

The reason for these questions is that if you were married during a portion of your federal career and later divorced before retirement, your former spouse may have been awarded a portion of your annuity or survivor annuity. Answering yes to the question will let the Office of Personnel Management know there was such an award so the agency’s Court Ordered Benefits Branch complies with the provisions included in the court order.

If you answer “yes,” you must attach a certified copy of the court order and any attachments or amendments. If you answer “no,” you don’t need to send any documents. In fact, including your divorce decree with your retirement application when it isn’t necessary will delay processing of the application.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore the question. Failure to answer it also will delay processing of your retirement application.

Here are a few tips to help make sure you understand what this question is asking:

Tip 1: Notice the word “living.” If your former spouse died before you retired, then the answer to the question is no. You don’t have to prove anything to OPM. Don’t attach a copy of the court order or a death certificate. It will delay your retirement significantly. OPM should have been notified of the death when it occurred.

Tip 2: If you’re divorced, but your former spouse was not awarded a portion of your retirement benefits or your divorce decree is silent on the issue, the answer to the question is no. And there’s no need to prove to OPM that no award of your retirement benefits was made.

Tip 3: If you’re divorced and your former spouse was awarded a portion of your retirement benefits, or a former spouse survivor annuity, then the answer to the question is yes. This is when you need to attach certified copies of your divorce decree and a “court order acceptable for processing.” That’s the term for an order issued by a state court directing OPM to pay benefits to a former spouse. 

To learn more about OPM’s rules and processes regarding this issue, you can watch this informative YouTube video by the agency’s Court-Ordered Benefits Branch. 

My thanks to Dan Jamison for his assistance with this article. Dan publishes the FERSGUIDE and is a nationally recognized expert in the area of federal retirement benefits and divorce. This article is not to be construed as legal advice. The division of retirement benefits pursuant to divorce is a complex matter. Seek the assistance of proper counsel.