Must Read: Divorce and Foreign Service Retirement Benefits

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Via UNCLASSIFIED CABLE: 19 STATE 53266 Date/DTG: May 20, 2019 / 201659Z MAY 19 available via afsa.org:

1. Divorce can impact the division of Foreign Service retirement benefits. This message from the Bureau of Human Resources Office of Retirement outlines the key rules that apply under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System (FSRDS) and the Foreign Service Pension System (FSPS).

2. Please note that the guidance outlined in this message does not apply to Civil Service employees. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reviews and administers civil service court-ordered benefits. For more information, Civil Service employees should download Pamphlet RI 84-1 titled “Court Ordered Benefits for Former Spouses” from OPM’s website (https://www.opm.gov/retirement-services/publications-forms/pamphlets/ri84-1.pdf) or view OPM’s presentation on Court Ordered Benefits (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZIaRfUtQB4).

Default Statutory Entitlement

3. The Foreign Service Act provides a statutory entitlement, also referred to as a default entitlement, when a former spouse is a qualified former spouse. A former spouse is a qualified former spouse if the following criteria are met: a) was married to a Foreign Service retirement plan participant for at least 10 years of his/her creditable federal service, b) at least 5 of those 10 years occurred while the participant was a member of the Foreign Service, and c) the former spouse must not have remarried prior to the commencement of any benefits and while under the age of 55 (age 60 for remarriages prior to November 8, 1984, for benefits under FSRDS). If the above criteria are met, and the former spouse is qualified, the statutory default entitlement applies regardless of the employee’s wishes, unless a spousal agreement or court order otherwise governs the disposition of benefits.

4. Under the default statutory entitlement, a qualified former spouse is entitled to a pro rata (marital) share of 50 percent of the employee’s annuity and a pro rata share of the maximum survivor benefit. The pro rata share is a fraction: the numerator is the total length of time of marriage during which the annuity was earned and the denominator is the retiree’s total creditable service. For example, if a couple was married for 14 years during the participant’s creditable service and the participant retired with 20 years of creditable service, then the pro rata share would be 14/20, or 70 percent. The former spouse would therefore receive 35 percent of the participant’s retired pay (which is half of the 70 percent pro rata share) while the participant would receive the remaining 65 percent.

Deviating From Statutory Entitlement

5. The Foreign Service default statutory entitlement may be altered through a valid court order or notarized spousal agreement. For example, a valid court order or spousal agreement can provide an express waiver of the former spouse’s statutory entitlement or provide that the former spouse’s entitlement be based on a different calculation method than the default calculation provided for by statute. Additionally, a valid court order or spousal agreement can award benefits even if the former spouse was not married to the retiree during his/her creditable Foreign Service or even if the marriage lasted fewer than 10 years. For a court order to be given effect for a former spouse, the order must be issued within two years of any divorce or annulment becoming final.

6. Any spousal agreement or court order that claims to alter or waive retirement benefits that are due under the Foreign Service Act to a former spouse must do so expressly in order for the alteration or waiver to be effective. To expressly waive or alter benefits under the Foreign Service Act, any spousal agreement or court order must specifically refer to Foreign Service retirement benefits. Merely mentioning generic retirement benefits or erroneously referring to retirement benefits under the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is insufficient to constitute a valid waiver or alteration of benefits. For example, to constitute an express waiver or alteration, the parties may specify that the relevant language in the agreement or order pertains to survivor annuities or pensions under the Foreign Service Act, under the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability System if the annuitant is a FSRDS participant, or under the Foreign Service Pension System if the annuitant is a FSPS participant.

7. In cases where the Department determines that a spousal agreement or court order language is insufficient, the parties may negotiate a new agreement or, in certain circumstances, return to court to correct the problem. A notarized spousal agreement may change the amount of the pension paid to the former spouse at any time. A court order can adjust the amount of a survivor annuity to a former spouse provided it is issued before the death of an employee/annuitant.

Submit Your Divorce Documents For Review

8. Foreign Service members must submit all relevant divorce documentation to the Bureau of Human Resources Office of Retirement (HR/RET) prior to retirement. HR/RET strongly encourages employees to do so prior to, or at the time of divorce, or no later than one year before retirement. In cases where years have passed since the divorce, it sometimes takes time to locate the former spouse. In other cases, state court orders may fail to meet federal standards or one party contends that the order has a different meaning than the Department’s interpretation. Thus, the parties sometimes must return to court to correct the problem. That process can take time.

9. To check in advance for such problems, Foreign Service employees should e-mail a certified copy of the entire court order and all attachments to the HR Service Center at HRSC@state.gov or e-mail that address asking for mailing instructions. HR/RET will review the documentation and provide the employee and their former spouse with a divorce determination letter addressing what, if any, retirement benefits a former spouse is entitled to.

Changes In Marital Status After Retirement

10. Foreign Service annuitants (retirees, their survivors, and former spouses) must report all changes in marital status (divorce, marriage/remarriage, or death of spouse) by notifying the HR Service Center and providing the relevant documentation.

11. Delays by annuitants in reporting a marriage/remarriage occurring after the participant’s retirement can permanently prevent a survivor election. A retiree who remarries after retirement has a limited period of time within which they may be eligible to make a survivor election for the new spouse. Under FSRDS, a retiree has only one year from the date of marriage/remarriage to elect a survivor annuity for a spouse acquired after retirement. For a FSPS retiree, there is a two-year deadline. When deciding whether to make a survivor election for a spouse acquired after retirement, it is important to consider that in order to remain eligible for FEHB benefits, a retiree’s surviving spouse must be eligible to receive a survivor annuity(whether or not the annuity would be payable in whole or in part to a former spouse).

For More Information

12. We understand this short message cannot address every conceivable situation. Therefore, additional questions may be sent to HRSC@state.gov.

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FCS Foreign Service Officer Lola Gulomova Killed By FSO Spouse in Apparent Murder-Suicide

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

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Last Friday, DC Metro Police reported the death of a Foreign Service couple in the District of Columbia (see below). Police said that preliminary investigation suggests that Lola Gulomova was killed in a homicide and that her spouse, Jason Rieff died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They left behind two young children (also see GFM: A Fund for the Rieff Girls).

Here is Lola Gulomova’s brief bio via DOC’s export.gov:

Lola Gulomova joined the U.S. Department of Commerce as a Commercial Officer for FCS in July 2008. She became part of the FCS Guangzhou team in summer 2013. Lola covers major sectors such as civil aviation, energy, SelectUSA and others. Prior to Guangzhou assignment, Lola Gulomova served as a Commercial Officer for AIT Commerical Section in Taipei. Prior to Taiwan, Lola worked in the Commercial Section of the U.S. Embassy New Delhi Office, India. During her tenure in India, Lola took part in the U.S. Government team supporting numerous high level visits, including POTUS visit in November 2010, two visits of the Secretary of U.S. Department of Commerce, and countless other VIP visits.

Prior to becoming a Foreign Service Officer for the Department of Commerce in June 2008, Lola worked in the U.S. Embassy/Moscow as NASA Deputy Russia Representative dealing with bilateral space relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. As part of her work with NASA, Lola ensured that the U.S. Astronauts who are present on the International Space Station receive appropriate support on the ground and in the space.

Before joining NASA, Lola Gulomova worked with United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) on Katrina Aid Today programs and initiatives to ensure long term recovery for people affected by Katrina hurricane. She set up operations of Katrina Aid Today and opened the office in Washington D.C. under tight schedule and deadline and limited budget. As a result of Lola’s efforts 70% of the initial set up operations budget was saved to be rerouted for Katrina aid efforts. Originally from Tajikistan, Lola graduated from the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) – Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC in 2001.

The WaPo report cited a friend who said that the two met at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in the District and that the couple married in 2000.

Congressional Records indicate that Jason Bradley Rieff, of DC, was appointed to the Diplomatic Service during the 108th Congress (2003-2004).  His name appears a second time during the 110th Congress (2007-2008) when he was appointed as State Department FSO-04 Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America in December 2007.

In the fall of 2008, during the 110th Congress, Lola Z. Gulomova, of DC was appointed to the Department of Commerce Foreign Service. In August 2012, the U.S. Senate confirmed her appointment as Commerce Foreign Service Officer Class Three, Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America. We have not been able to find other entries in the congressional record as of this writing.

OPM-sourced data online indicates that she served from 2008-2011 in New Delhi, India; 2012 in Taipei, Taiwan; and 2013-2015 in Guangzhou, China.

We understand that the couple’s first tour was in Chennai, India around 2003-2005 where Rieff served as a consular officer, and Gulomova was one of diplomatic spouses who worked in the consular section. They were posted next to the US Embassy Moscow. We don’t know the exact time they were there but as a junior officer, it would have been a two-year assignment after Chennai but before she joined FCS as a career officer in June 2008.  In Moscow, she worked for NASA, according to her online bio, as Deputy Russia Representative dealing with bilateral space relations between the United States and the Russian Federation. 

While she was listed as having worked in Guanzhou from 2013-2015, Rieff was listed as school board member of the American International School of Guangzhou in its annual report from 2016-2017.  They were a tandem couple working for two agencies, it is possible she did a two year tour for FCS while he did the typical three-year tour for State. 

In Washington, D.C., Gulomova worked as a desk officer in Commerce’s Office of Russia, Ukraine & Eurasia (ORUE). ORUE provides assistance to U.S. companies including guidance on doing business in Russia, resolving market access issues, removing barriers to trade, market strategy considerations, and connections to other U.S. Government resources. She was also AFSA’s Foreign Commercial Service representative.  

She was on Twitter but did not tweet very much; the last thing she tweeted was an FCS recruitment announcement on June 4th.  The Ambassador of Uzbekistan to the United States tweeted that Gulomova was supposed to leave on June 8th to lead her first trade mission overseas.

Rieff worked in one of the annexes of the State Department; we have not yet been able to confirm his work assignment; we understand that he worked at Consular Affair’s Visa Office. Below is the police statement of this incident:

Via DC Metro Police, June 7, 2019:

Detectives from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Branch are investigating a homicide and a suicide that occurred on Friday, June 7, 2019, inside of a residence, in the 4300 block of Windom Place, Northwest.

At approximately 9:25 am, members of the Second District responded to the listed location for a check on the welfare. Upon arrival, members gained entry to a residence at the listed location and observed an adult male with a handgun. Officers heard a gunshot then found the adult male suffering from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. An unconscious and unresponsive adult female was also found inside the residence suffering from multiple gunshot wounds.

DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services responded to the scene and found that the female victim displayed no signs consistent with life and remained on the scene until transported to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. The male was transported to an area hospital. After all life-saving efforts failed, he was pronounced dead.

The male decedent has been identified as 51 year-old Jason Rieff, of Northwest, DC.

The female decedent has been identified as 45 year-old Lola Gulomova, of Northwest, DC.

Preliminary investigation by detectives from the Homicide Branch suggest that Ms. Gulomova’s death is a homicide and Mr. Rieff’s death is a suicide. The investigation also revealed that this incident is domestic in nature.

The exact cause and manner of death will be determined pending an autopsy to be conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

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This tragic incident is starting an informal conversation within one part of the Foreign Service’s online community about domestic violence which is not talked about very much. We hope to write a follow-up post. If you have something to share, email us.

Note that the State Department previously told this blog when we inquired about sexual assault data that “The Office of Special Investigations [within Diplomatic Security] receives and catalogues allegations and complaints. Allegations are neither categorized by location nor by alleged offense.” If they’re not tracking alleged offenses like sexual assaults, or for that matter, domestic violence, how will the State Department know if it has a problem? We want to talk about that some more at some future post.

//Updated/June 10, 2019,  8:59 pm PST

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Difficult (And Sometimes Nasty) Divorce in the Foreign Service — AFSA Talk, July 30 at 2 pm

💔 By Domani Spero

As part of its Speaker Series, AFSA is presenting a panel discussion on divorce in the Foreign Service this week.  On Tuesday, July 30 at 2 pm, AFSA and the Department of State’s Divorce Working Group will present “a seminar and panel discussion on the sensitive yet important topic of divorce in the Foreign Service.”  The announcement says that this is “a great opportunity to become a resource on this issue for colleagues at your post or in your bureau who may go through such a life change; or in the event that this may affect you at some point.”

Expected to participate in the event are the following:  Susan Frost, the Director of the Family Liaison Office (FLO), will moderate the discussion; Panelists will include Daniel Hirsch, Management Officer and former AFSA Vice President for the Department of State; Work-Life Specialist Elizabeth Royal; Chief Policy Adviser of the Office of Retirement Jacqueline Long; and Sharon Zarozny, founder of Brilliant Exits LLC, a divorce consulting and support group.

Among the topics to be covered are what happens at post when a family splits up and what spouses’ rights are upon divorce. Handouts and resources will be available during the event and as always, the session will be recorded and made available for online viewing through our web site and YouTube channel.  This program takes place at AFSA HQ, 2101 E Street NW, at 2:00 pm on July 30. RSVPs are required for this event and should be sent to events@afsa.org.

About a year ago, the Director General of the Foreign Service Linda Thomas-Greenfield, then in office for barely a month sent out an ALDAC on Providing Adequately for Spouse, Partner, and Children Due to Separation and/or Impending Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership.  Below is an excerpt:

Marital separations, divorce, and the dissolution of domestic partnerships are difficult, emotionally trying times for Foreign Service employees and their families. The stress and logistical difficulties are exacerbated while an employee is posted abroad. It has come to my attention that some spouses, partners, and children depart post on Advance Travel Orders, when there is an impending dissolution of a marriage or domestic partnership, without the basic requirements to set up a home and sustain themselves. As a result, these families are put in the position of having to seek help from relatives and friends and, in some cases, from public assistance. The failure to adequately arrange for a spouse/partner or children’s transition from post can reflect adversely upon the U.S. government. Moreover, the COM and the Department have a legitimate concern in the welfare of family members accompanying employees to post and the overall morale at post. 

That this went out as an ALDAC probably means that there were more than one or two of these cases.  Read in full here.

Did you hear about that case from years back when a mid-level official left his family for another officer, decamped to a hotel and cause a minor scandal at post? Maybe the wife had no lawyer, or had a bad one, but we heard that she could not even afford to go to a fast food restaurant after she returned to the DC area!

What would you do if under a murky separation agreement, you  had to call ex-dear hubby every month to remind him to send money so the kids can eat? Do you know what to do if you’re asked to sign a quit claim to your spouse’s pension? Should you accept the house with a mortgage as part of a settlement? Is anyone at the State Department assigned a role as spouse’s advocate during this difficult and sometimes nasty process?  Spouses/partners with 52 weeks of creditable employment overseas get Executive Order Eligibility, what happens if you cannot find a job within the time limit prescribed under E.O. 12721?

All would be great questions for this panel on Tuesday. Below are some reading materials provided by AFSA:

Not a fun subject but …. something one might want to keep in the brain’s back pocket.

Blog Note — this blog is having a mental health break; nah, not a breakdown dears, just a much needed break.  Plus need to tear apart my whole bathroom (old house, long story).  So blogging may be on pause for the next couple of weeks.  Apologies, too for the slow mail from my end. Will get back to you as soon as I am able.

Mwaah! D/

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