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Angulo v. Gochnauer

May 17, 2001

CHARLES B. ANGULO, APPELLANT,
v.
LOIS A. GOCHNAUER, APPELLEE.



Before Steadman, Ruiz and Glickman, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Gregory E. Mize, Trial Judge)

Argued December 12, 2000

Before us is a dispute over a former wife's right to what might be termed, somewhat imprecisely, *fn1 a share in her ex-husband's retirement benefits under the Foreign Service Act of 1980, 22 U.S.C. § 3901, et seq. Appellant, the ex-husband, claims that appellee, the ex-wife, waived that right in their property settlement agreement. Alternatively, he argues that she is barred by promissory estoppel. *fn2 The trial court granted summary judgment for the appellee, primarily on the ground that the agreement did not "expressly provide[]" for such a waiver, as required under the Act. We affirm.

I.

The parties were married on November 27, 1974. In 1985, the parties entered into a property settlement agreement, and were divorced shortly thereafter. Id. Approximately one year later, appellant remarried. Id. Relevant to our analysis, from one year prior to their marriage in 1974 until his retirement in 1998, appellant was employed as a foreign service officer. *fn3 Id.

The parties stated in a "whereas" clause of the property settlement agreement that they desired "to settle all rights, interests and obligations between them and to obtain a full, complete and final property settlement and agreement, including a settlement of all property interests and all claims between or against each other[.]" The agreement thereafter contained the following provisions upon which appellant relies:

(3) Each party hereby forever discharges, relinquishes and releases all right, title and interest which he or she now has or ever had or ever may have in and to the real, personal and mixed property of the other; all rights of curtesy and dower; all right, title and interest which he or she has or may ever have in and to the property or estate of the other at death, all right and interest to take against the other's will or under the intestate laws, and each and every other claim of right, title or interest he or she has or may ever have against the other[.] . . .

(6) Each party hereby agrees that no support or alimony shall be payable to either party by the other.

(7) Each party further agrees that neither party shall maintain any form of insurance for the benefit of the other party. From the date of this agreement, neither party shall have any right or claim in any insurance policy of the other party. . . .

(11) The parties hereto shall and will at any time or times hereinafter make, execute and deliver any and all such further instruments and things as the other of such parties shall require for the purpose of giving full effect to these presents, and to the covenants and agreements thereof.

In early 1998, the State Department ruled that because the settlement agreement failed to specifically mention the waiver of all rights of entitlement under the Foreign Service Act, appellee was entitled to a share of appellant's monthly retirement benefits and to potential survivor benefits. Appellant instituted this suit against appellee, claiming that appellee had no right to any share of appellant's retirement benefits under the Foreign Service Act because of the aforementioned property settlement agreement. Alternatively, appellant claimed that at a luncheon in 1995, appellee had orally agreed to waive her share of retirement benefits and that he had relied on that promise in taking early retirement three years later in 1998. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellee.

II.

The Foreign Service Act was passed by Congress in 1980 as a measure to strengthen and improve the Foreign Service of the United States. S. Rep. No. 96-913, at 1 (1980). One component of the Act is section 814, which confers upon former spouses of members of the Foreign Service a retirement annuity of up to fifty percent of the participant's annuity, depending on the length of the service and the marriage. See 22 U.S.C. ยง 4054. "The Committee believes that this provision is sorely needed to begin to balance some of the inequities inherent in the Foreign Service life and which have fallen disproportionately on spouses of Foreign Service employees." S. Rep. No. 96-913, at 66-67. Recognizing that spouses of Foreign Service members could rarely establish their own ...


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