Survivor Benefit Plan and Divorce

Often enough, both members of a military household are busy: the regular “busy” of being in the military, whether it be relocations, deployments, or temporary duties elsewhere and the “busy” of all the conflicts that come with that to include running a house and raising children.

So, it is not uncommon that neither the military member nor the spouse has given much thought to the Survivor Benefit Plan or SBP, a critical benefit that comes at retirement.

When negotiating the rough terrain of the decision to divorce, both parties must contemplate not only the fiscal considerations of current pay, allowances and retirement pay, but also SBP.


In short, SBP operates like an insurance benefit (often called an annuity). It pays a portion of a military retiree’s pay to a named beneficiary when the retiree dies. This is important to understand because without SBP, when a military retiree dies, that retirement pay stops upon death.


Many SBP beneficiaries are the former spouse of the military retiree, including those who divorced prior to the service member retiring.

Providing SBP benefits to a former spouse either happens through an agreement between the couple divorcing or by court order in the divorce proceedings. A spouse has the right to request SBP coverage in a divorce action. Under the right circumstances, usually factoring in the amount of years of service overlapping the years of the marriage, the court will order the military member to provide the coverage.


Three important things that must be considered in this arrangement or court order: (1) who pays, (2) who informs the SBP program, and (3) possible future spouses. Let’s look at each one:

  1. Who pays?
    SBP is an elected benefit and is not provided for free. It requires that someone make payments to the SBP Program to maintain the beneficiary. This could be either spouse or a combination and there are many factors that should be considered. The amount is set as a percentage by law.
  2. Who informs the SBP program?
    Within ONE year of the court entering a decree to make the former spouse an SBP beneficiary, the SPOUSE must submit a written request (called a Deemed Election) to the service finance center (DFAS). The service member, then, cannot fail or refuse to make the required election.
  3. Possible future spouses
    The third consideration is future spouses. If the former spouse remarries before the age of 55, the SBP coverage is suspended. The suspension may be terminated by death or divorce and coverage is resumed. Lastly, as long as the former spouse is alive, the service member may not name a current spouse as an SBP beneficiary without written waiver of the benefit from the former spouse.

Please also note that SBP benefits works differently with members of the reserve forces and National Guard. These are important matters to discuss in consultation with an experienced attorney.


Divorces are trying enough. Having an experienced and caring attorney review all your fiscal options and obligations will alleviate much of the concern and frustration that marital dissolution unfortunately includes. Our lawyers stand by willing to help you through this process.