FERS and CSRS Marriage, Divorce, and Survivor Benefits

This article isn’t about whether or not to elect survivor benefits but rather on how survivor benefits operate in specific marital scenarios, such as when an ex-spouse is involved.

If a federal employee nearing retirement is being urged to substitute survivor benefits with a life insurance policy, they should carefully examine the repercussions. Most importantly, a federal annuitant’s spouse can only continue to be enrolled in FEHB following the death of the retiree if:

1. the pair were both enrolled in FEHB at the time of death, and

2. at least partial survivor benefits were chosen.

It’s also worth noting that survivor payments, the reduction for those benefits, and income from FERS and CSRS are all subject to yearly increases due to COLAs.

Marriage and Survivor Benefits

When a married federal employee retires and claims benefits, they must decide whether to take a full or partial survivor benefit or forego the survivor annuity entirely. To take a lower benefit or waive it, their spouse must sign a waiver included with the retirement application. Once that’s finalized, which occurs 30 days after the first formal payment from FERS or CSRS is made, it cannot be reversed until the marriage terminates, either via death, divorce, or annulment.

What happens if the spouse of a federal annuitant dies first?

The reduction in survivor benefits from a federal retiree’s FERS or CSRS annuity ends. Deductions from pension payments made before the spouse’s death are not refunded.

What happens if a federal employee marries after retiring?

Survivor benefits can be added to a federal retiree’s pension income if the adjustment is made within two years after the marriage. However, this leads to two income reductions. The first is the usual reduction, which covers the survivor benefit. The second is an actuarial reduction, resulting in less than 5% of the unreduced annuity payment. Even if the marriage terminates, the second reduction is permanent.

What if a retired government employee remarries the same person?

If a federal annuitant and their spouse chose to waive the survivor benefit, divorced after the federal employee retired, and then wanted to remarry – they can’t add a survivor benefit larger than the option made at retirement during their first marriage.

What happens if a federal retiree divorces after retiring?

The ex-spouse may still be entitled to survivor benefits, but only if a court ruling explicitly specifies so, and only for the survivor benefits option chosen. So, if the benefit was waived when the federal employee married, it cannot be reinstated upon a divorce after retirement.

What about federal employees who divorced while still working?

An ex-spouse may be eligible for FERS or CSRS survivor payments with a valid court order. Such court orders can only be changed before the government employee retires or dies. A decrease in a FERS or CSRS pension due to a former spouse’s claim to survivor benefits can be reversed if the ex-spouse dies, remarries before 55, or a future court ruling revokes their entitlement to federal survivor payments. Also, if the marriage lasted 30 years or longer, it makes no difference if the ex-spouse remarried before 55 – they may still be eligible for survivor payments.

Contact Information:
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