DONNA S. ELSWICK v. ROY C. ELSWICK, JR., SC 18242
Judicial District of New London
Dissolution of Marriage; Pension; Whether Trial Court Improperly Denied Motion to Open and Correct Order Concerning Division of Federal Pension Benefits. The marriage of the parties was dissolved in February of 1998. The judgment provided for a distribution of the defendant's federal civil service retirement benefits. To effectuate this provision, the court issued a qualified domestic relations order known, under the federal regulations, as a "court order acceptable for processing" (COAP). The COAP instructed the federal Office of Personnel Management (office) to calculate the defendant's retirement annuity based upon his credited service and salary as of the date of the dissolution and to assign one-third of that annuity to the plaintiff. The COAP further provided that the plaintiff was to receive a survivor benefit equal to forty-five percent of the defendant's retirement annuity and that the full amount of the premium for the survivor benefit should be deducted from the monthly amount that the plaintiff would receive when the defendant retires. When the defendant retired in 2004, the plaintiff began to receive her monthly benefit, which was reduced by the amount of the premium for the survivor benefit as of the date of the defendant's retirement. The plaintiff filed a motion to open and correct the COAP, requesting, among other things, that the COAP instruct the office to reduce her monthly payment by the amount of the premium for the survivor benefit as of the date of the dissolution, not the date of retirement. The plaintiff claimed that, because the amount of the premium for the survivor benefit increases with each cost of living allowance, she was overpaying $200 per month because of the error. Finding that the language in the judgment clearly and unambiguously provided that the amount of the premium for the survivor benefit was to be calculated as of the date of the dissolution, the court granted the plaintiff's request. The court then issued an amended COAP, which provided, among other things, that the plaintiff was to pay the full amount of the premium for the survivor benefit and that the amount of the premium was to be calculated as of the date of the dissolution of the marriage. The plaintiff appealed, claiming that the amended COAP was internally inconsistent because, if she were to pay the amount of the premium for the survivor benefit as of the date of the divorce, she would not be paying the full amount of the premium for the survivor benefit. Believing that the appeal was not ripe because the office had not yet rejected the COAP, the plaintiff withdrew the appeal. The office subsequently rejected the amended COAP, noting the internal inconsistency. The plaintiff then filed a motion to open and correct the amended COAP. The trial court denied the motion, finding that the plaintiff was attempting to reargue matters that had been decided when it issued the amended COAP, from which the plaintiff had filed an appeal. The plaintiff now appeals from the denial of the motion to open and correct the amended COAP, claiming that the court improperly refused to make the COAP consistent with the dissolution judgment and its decision on the prior motion to open..