I want to discuss a big issue that usually comes up in marriages that have been in progress for five, 10 years or more, and that is the issue that deals with survivor benefits, what kind of survivor benefits and how do those come into play in a property division situation.
Survivor benefits mean that the parties, either one or both parties, have a pension retirement account or a military retirement, and in the typical example of a military retirement, the military member has served 20-plus years and at the end of a military career, the military member has to make an election as to whether or not he or she is going to accept survivor benefits as part of the retirement and there’s a cost associated with that.
Let’s assume you have a 20 year marriage, and over the entire course of the 20 years, the husband served active duty in the Air Force. Now he’s retired and the parties are going through a divorce. Survivor benefit would say that the parties have elected to name the wife as the survivor in the event that the former military member pre-deceases the former spouse, and this is like a life insurance policy that protects the former spouse and ensures that the former spouse is going to receive a military retiree income if the military member dies before the former spouse.
Another way to address this is through specific retirement plans or pension plans that have a survivor benefit component to it, and it is always a good idea to check with a lawyer to review those plans when you’re going through a divorce to make sure that if your spouse has had a pension and retirement account, and something happens to your spouse, that you’re going to get your share long after your spouse passes away.
Lastly, I want to talk about life insurance, which is a very important issue in almost all family law cases because if you have children, most courts are going to say that you need to name the children as beneficiaries to a life insurance policy but if you have a pension and retirement account or even if you’ve done a military retirement, that you can still have life insurance when SPP has been waived, survivor benefits have been waived so that the former spouse is protected in the event that the spouse who’s had the retirement account passes away.
Keep in mind that in Colorado, a military retirement, a pension or a retirement account is treated as property so it doesn’t matter to a judge that one party or the other had the pension or retirement account. What the court is going to look at is the law in Colorado and say, was that pension retirement account or military retirement, was that acquired during the course of the marriage and if so, what is the value of the marital share of that pension and retirement account, and so SPP survivor benefits are very important when you are discussing how those monies should be divided in any kind of a divorce or legal separation, and you want to make sure that you have a qualified lawyer to discuss that with you.