Paycheck Chronicles

From The Mailbag: Divided Retirement Pay


The division of military retirement pay in a divorce is a hot topic, and I always enjoy the comments that come after these posts.  Almost everyone has an opinion about divided retirement pay.

Today's email is from a former spouse who is unclear about her benefits.

Dear Kate,

I'm getting a check each month from the military retirement from my ex. My question is if he passes away do I still get his retirement every month?

Mrs. G

Sometimes, the shortest questions have the longest answers!

Mrs. G,

The answer depends on whether your ex-husband was paying for Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) coverage, with you as the beneficiary.

Military retirement pay ends with the death of the service member.  As such, the portion of retirement pay that is awarded to an ex-spouse will also end with the death of the service member.

However, the military has a program to provide income to the survivors of military retirees.  It is called the Survivor Benefit Plan, or SBP.  The service member pays a monthly premium for SBP.  In return, the survivor receives a portion (up to 55%) of the retiree's retirement pay if the retiree dies.

Service members must make a decision about SBP at the time of retirement, or within one year of a qualifying change in family circumstances.

It is possible that your former spouse is carrying SBP coverage, to your benefit.  SBP coverage can be mandated by your divorce decree, or it may be voluntary.  Either way, the proper paperwork must have been completed within the correct time frame.  You will need to speak with your former spouse or check with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) to see if you are currently listed as a beneficiary of your ex-husband's SBP.

I hope that helps,


Former spouse SBP coverage has a lot of rules and there are guidelines for every scenario.  If you find yourself facing this situation, I encourage you to do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions.  You don't want to jeopardize your benefits just because you missed a detail or a deadline.

As I said, I do learn a lot from your comments, and any post about the division of military retirement pay always gets people talking.  Please share your experiences, thoughts, and frustrations with the system!

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