To get the survivor benefit coverage, you need to either be awarded it in a court order by a judge or have agreed with your spouse that you’ll receive it. Then your property settlement agreement is generally made into a court order. After the divorce, you need to submit your court order, your final divorce decree, your property settlement agreement, or whatever the particular term for it is in your jurisdiction. If you have entered into a special order to divide the retirement benefits, submit that retirement benefits order to the Department of Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) – who will be your lifelong friend, DFAS runs the military retirement complex.
To submit everything immediately is best. There’s a rule for it. If you don’t submit the survivor benefit order within a year of the divorce, then you will lose it even if you have been awarded it in court. What technically happens is you submit the orders and the military inquires of the member whether they’re going to deem to elect the ex-spouse. Most of the time they don’t fill out the paperwork, so then the military DFAS will accept the court orders as a deemed election of the former spouse to obtain the survivor benefit, but they will only do that within one year of the divorce. If you submit your paperwork to DFAS one year and a day after the divorce decree is entered, they will not give you the survivor benefit. There is nothing a state court can do about that.
Carolyn Grimes is a family lawyer at the law firm of Wade Grimes Friedman Sutter & Leischner PLLC in Alexandria, Virginia. To learn more about Grimes and her firm, visit www.oldtownlawyers.com.