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From The Mailbag: Former Spouse Survivor Benefit Plan

When a military member divorces, one of the many unique considerations is the possibility of providing former spouse Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) coverage.  This option is quite valuable and can be a big part of the overall property settlement agreement.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of ways to mess it up, and there are deadlines along the way.  Not understanding every nuance can result in some expensive mistakes.  Today's letter highlights this:

Dear Kate,

I was married to a military member in the 1960s and 1970s.  After our divorce, he continued to serve until retirement.  He also remarried several times.   A few years ago, his last wife died, and he died soon afterwards.

I believe that I am entitled to my husband's Survivor Military Benefits --- the benefits from the policy he would have taken out for his current wife at the time of his retirement. Can you help me?

Tessa

I think that confusion about SBP laws has given Tessa the impression that she is eligible for benefits, but I don't see any evidence from her letter that is true.  I often hear from both sides of divorced couples who don't really understand what they agreed to in their divorce, and they're frustrated and confused.

Dear Tessa,

I'm afraid I can not.  Based upon the information you have provided, I don't see anything to indicate that you would be eligible for benefits under the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP.)  Retirees can designate just one spouse or former spouse for coverage, and there is no provision for the benefit to roll over to a different spouse.

The only way that I believe that you might have some sort of claim is if your divorce decree directs your ex-husband to provide SBP for you, and you filed that documentation with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) within a year of the divorce, and somehow DFAS messed that up when he purchased SBP coverage for his current spouse.

I'm sorry that I can not be of more help.  You may want to contact DFAS directly to ensure that there isn't some small provision that I have missed.

Kate

It is certainly possible that Tessa could be covered by the SBP, if her former husband had designated her as the beneficiary.  This can happen voluntarily or as ordered in a divorce decree, property settlement, or other court order relating to the divorce. Each state is a little different.  However, you don't get to designate an order of beneficiaries like with some other policies.

Understanding the rules for former spouse Survivor Benefit Plan coverage is an important part of creating a property settlement agreement that is equitable and appropriate to the particulars of each divorce.  If you are divorcing, learn these nuances yourself, ensure that your lawyers are educated, and be prepared to defend your decisions to a judge who may be confused.

You may find more useful information in these articles:

From The Mailbag:  Divided Retirement Pay

Survivor Benefit Plan - Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Offset

Survivor Benefit Plan and Remarriage

Divorcing?  You Probably Need A Lawyer

Five Reasons To Be Impressed By The Survivor Benefit Plan

 

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