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Survivor benefit plan designations in a military divorce

Military service members, both active duty and retired, have access to what is known as a Survivor's Benefit Plan (SBP). Deducted monthly from military pay, these plans are funded by the government in part, and by the military member in remainder. If a service member chooses not to have an SBP, then all benefits will cease upon his or her death.

One of the options in initiating an SBP is for a military member to designate a beneficiary. Included in this designation is the amount of pay, or percentage of pay, the member would like a beneficiary to receive. In percentage, the amount can be as high as 55 percent of the member's full regular monthly benefit. The amount that a beneficiary is to receive will determine the cost of the plan which will be deducted from the service member's pay.

Most beneficiaries are, of course, spouses of retired or honorably discharged military members. However, following a divorce, the ex-spouse becomes ineligible for these benefits unless specific requirements are followed to amend the coverage. The beneficiary designation of an ex-spouse will not automatically carry over, and the military member must make some changes for the coverage to continue.

Within one year following a divorce, a member must apply to convert coverage. If the coverage was ordered by the court and the member does not follow the required steps to convert, then the named beneficiary may obtain the coverage by contacting the service center in writing. If the coverage was not ordered by the court, then it remains at the sole discretion of the military member who, if anyone, is named as beneficiary.

Speaking with an experienced military divorce attorney can help to alleviate any confusion as to what a military member is required to do, versus what is optional.

Source: Divorcenet by NOLO, "Former Spouse SBP (Survivor Benefit Plans) for Military Members," Accessed Dec 18, 2017

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