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Can former spouses receive survivor benefits?

A military marriage can be difficult to sustain, and some military spouses may eventually decide to divorce. One question that may come up when a military couple divorces in New Mexico is whether a service member's ex can collect survivor benefits.

Even if spouses undergo a military divorce, the ex-spouse may still receive coverage under the military's Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). They may be entitled to the same benefits as currently-married spouses.

Only one spouse, including former spouses, may receive these survivor benefits. When there is more than one former spouse, the service member must designate the spouse who will receive SBP benefits.

The military spouse must notify a current spouse when a former spouse is designated to receive SBP. The member needs to provide a written statement stating whether this was made to comply with a family court order, or whether it was made as part of a voluntary written agreement in a divorce that is part of a court order governing a divorce. The military member and the former spouse should execute this document.

Premiums are calculated the same for current spouses and former spouses. The former spouse pays a portion of the premiums in a proportional amount to the division of the retirement pay. The parties must agree on how the former spouse will pay premiums to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service because it does not have the authority to withhold these funds.

SBP annuities, like retirement pay, is protected from inflation. Premiums and annuity payments receive cost-of-living adjustments.

Monthly SBP costs are not taxable federal income. Their actual cost is lower than the amount deducted from retirement pay because fewer federal taxes are paid. SBP survivor payments are subject to taxes.

A former spouse who remarries after 55 may continue to receive SBP benefits for life. If they remarry before reaching 55, their payments will stop but may resume if there is a divorce or annulment or their new spouse dies.

When a service member's ex-spouse dies and the member remarries, the new spouse may obtain SBP benefits. A coverage transfer must be requested within one year of the death or remarriage.

An attorney can assist spouses protect their rights when settling property division issues. Lawyers can also provide guidance and help navigate the federal and New Mexico laws governing these divorces.

Source:, "SBP former spouse coverage," Accessed July 3, 2017

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