The Survivor Benefit Plan is part of the retirement plan. Military members, when they retire, receive what’s called “retired/retainer pay” because they are subject to recall. As part of that benefit system, they can opt at the point of retirement to elect a survivor benefit. A survivor benefit is basically the retirement benefit that’s received once a member dies. If you have an intact marriage, you generally elect a survivor benefit. The premium is 6-8% of the monthly retirement benefits.
Then when the member dies, the surviving spouse receives an amount that’s equal to up to 55% of what the total pension would be. In a divorce – especially for a long-term marriage – the divorcing spouse generally wants survivor benefit as well. The quirk with the military survivor benefit is that you can only elect one person. You can’t elect multiple ones as you can with a federal civilian survivor benefit.
If someone’s divorced and has multiple wives, they can each take a share of the survivor benefit. For the military it’s all or nothing. Usually in a long-term marriage, the courts in Virginia at least will award the full survivor benefits to the divorced spouse and each party will pay their share of it from the retirement benefits received.
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.