If you are a military retiree going through a divorce, your spouse may be the beneficiary of your military Survivor Benefits Plan. You may be asking “Do I have to keep them as the beneficiary?” “What options do I have?”

Survivor Benefits Plan Explained

A Survivor Benefits Plan is an annuity program that provides continuing benefits to beneficiaries selected by the service member in the event of the service member’s death. The service member must be retired or retirement-eligible active duty to qualify for a Survivor Benefits Plan. Beneficiaries may be the service member’s spouse, children, spouse, and children, or a person with insurable interest.

Community Property in Divorce

The Survivor Benefits Plan is often considered along with other community property during the divorce. You may decide with your spouse or the court may order that you continue providing Survivor Benefits Plan coverage to your former spouse after the divorce. There are benefits and drawbacks to continuing or ending coverage.  It is important to determine what strategy is best for your circumstances.

It is important to know that, if the divorce occurs after retirement, former spouse coverage is not automatic. You have one year to elect former spouse coverage and file such with the Defense Financial and Accounting Service (“DFAS”).

Only One Spouse at a Time Can Receive Plan Benefits

One of the drawbacks of continuing to cover a former spouse is that it prevents you from covering a new spouse. A Survivor Benefits Plan cannot be divided among a spouse and a former spouse. If a former spouse is the beneficiary of a service member’s Survivor Benefits Plan and the service member remarries, the service member’s new spouse cannot be a beneficiary.

Covering Children and Others

Depending on the specific Survivor Benefits Plan you have, you may be able to switch the benefits from your ex-spouse to your children. This would allow your children to directly receive benefits.

Additionally, the beneficiary of the plan may also be another person with insurable interest. This is either a close relative or a person with whom you have a financial connection, such as a business partner.

Make the Best Choices

Making the right decision concerning your Survivor Benefits Plan during a divorce takes experience with both Washington state family law and military regulations. Our attorneys can help you make these decisions and protect your rights and assets in divorce court.

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