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4 reminders about survivor benefit plans and military divorces

Survivor benefit plan (SBP) coverage is one area of military divorces that can be particularly confusing -- but it's incredibly important to make sure that you understand what needs to be done to enforce the SBP coverage. Otherwise, the SBP award may lapse, and it cannot be reinstated.

What are the most important things to keep in mind about SBP coverage after divorce?

-- Your divorce judgment must be highly specific. It shouldn't just say that you are entitled to SBP coverage as a former spouse of a military member. Instead, it should clearly require the military member to elect former-spouse SBP coverage. This puts the spouse in the military under a legal requirement to take positive action to preserve your SBP coverage.

-- SBP coverage has to be elected, in writing, within 1 year of the divorce. Don't take it for granted that your ex-spouse will meet the deadline or that he or she has sent in the appropriate forms. Instead, your attorney should submit a "deemed election" request on your behalf. A deemed election request asks the military to make the SBP election on your behalf to guarantee compliance with the divorce agreement or court's order.

-- Beware the retirement trap. If your ex-spouse is nearing military retirement, the SBP election must be done prior to his or her date of retirement. If it isn't completed by the time he or she retires, no further court order requiring your spouse to elect SBP coverage for former spouse will be honored.

-- Keep in mind that your SBP coverage will be suspended if you remarry prior to age 55. It will only be reinstated if your marriage ends. If you remarry after age 55, your SBP coverage will continue. If your ex-spouse remarries, he or she cannot stop your SBP coverage in order to cover his or her new spouse without a court order modifying your current agreement.

For more information on military divorce issues, talk to an attorney with experience in that area of the law. Given the complex nature of military divorces, you want to make certain that your legal counsel can handle the task ahead.

Source: www.DFAS.mil, "Eligible Beneficiaries," accessed March 16, 2017

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