California is a community property state. This means that in all California divorce cases, unless a specific statute says otherwise, all property acquired during the marriage is shared 50/50 by the couple, and it must be divided evenly.
That being said, a recent California divorce case illustrates how a federal statute can supersede a family court order. In that case, the husband and wife agreed to an order requiring the husband to keep the wife listed as the beneficiary of the husband’s survivor and death benefits until another court order was agreed upon by them. The husband was an active duty service member at the time. Despite the order, six months later, the husband changed the beneficiary of his life insurance policy to his sister. The husband was terminally ill and died eight months later. After the husband’s death, his sister received the proceeds of the policy.
The husband’s life insurance policy was issued under a federal law: the Servicemen’s Group Life Insurance Act of 1965 (SGLIA). The court found the SGLIA allowed the husband to change the beneficiary on his policy at any time without obtaining the wife’s consent or giving her notice. The court determined the SGLIA preempted state law. That is, although state law conflicted with federal law, the federal law prevailed. Since the SGLIA allows the service member to change the beneficiary “at any time and without the knowledge or consent of the previous beneficiary,” the husband had the right to change the beneficiary at any time, and the fact that the husband violated the order did not change the beneficiary of the policy.