Survivor benefits and divorce


Q: I retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2000 after being divorced in 1997. I gave my ex-wife 100 percent survivor benefits; she recently turned 55. I remarried in 2004 and sent the proper forms needed to add my current wife to my Federal Employees Health Benefits plan. I now have the American Postal Workers Union (472) plan, and I assumed that if I died, my present wife would be able to keep the plan. After talking with the Office of Personnel Management, I was told that I need to have my present wife named as survivor beneficiary for her to keep it, even though my ex-wife has 100 percent survivor benefits. They said that I had to do that within two years after our marriage. I was never advised of this and have never read anything on the matter. Can you please explain this to me?

A: Under 5 CFR 831.631, a retiree can elect a survivor annuity for a spouse acquired after retirement. That election must be made within two years after the marriage. Although your former spouse has entitlement to the full survivor annuity, if she were to die and you had elected a survivor annuity for your current spouse, your current spouse would be entitled to that survivor annuity. Because your annuity has already been reduced to pay for the original survivor annuity, your election of one for your current spouse wouldn’t cost you anything. Note: Even if you died after electing a survivor annuity for your current spouse, she would only be eligible to continue her FEHB coverage if she was actually receiving a survivor annuity.


About Author

Reg Jones was head of retirement and insurance policy at the Office of Personnel Management. Email your retirement-related questions to


  1. I am confused on your Dec. 17 2010 article that was written about the gentlemen remarrying and wanting to add his second wife to his Federal Employees Health Benefits plan as the survivor annuity. But he couldn’t. I am going thru a divorce now and was wondering is this the same as the regular survivor benefits when you die. My husband was under Civil Service for the Postal Service and made me the beneficiary for when he passes. After the divorce can he change that to someone else even though we were married for 23 years?

    Thank you so much

    • No, he can’t if that benefit was included in your divorce decree and you filed a copy of that decree with the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

  2. C. Spivey
    I need assistance. I divorced a retired CSRS (Postal Service) after 24 years of marriage. I was listed on his retirement documents as the survivor annuitant (55%). He requested that I be removed, and his request was denied by the judge. My problem is that when I submitted my divorce decree OPM sent a letter informing me “regrettably they could not process the court order because the court order does not expressly state that I am entitled to a share of the employee annuity using terms that are sufficient to identify teh employee annuity.
    They did state they accept amended court orders for apportionment purposes. MY attorney is not adept in this area. Can you point us to the proper section of Title 5 that should be used so it would conform with Federal Regulations.

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