Contracts Clause

It is fairly rare for the Supreme Court to decide a family law case raising constitutional issues. The last noteworthy case meeting this criteria was Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) where the Court ruled same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Sveen v. Melin isn’t as groundbreaking.  

In this case the Supreme Court held 8-1 that applying Minnesota’s revocation-on-divorce statute to a life insurance beneficiary designation made before the statute’s enactment does not violate the Constitution’s Contracts Clause.

Imagine this scenario:  husband buys life insurance and designates his wife as the beneficiary. A few years later the state adopts a revocation-upon-divorce statute applicable to life insurance beneficiaries which states that upon divorce the designation of a spouse as a life insurance beneficiary is revoked. A few years after that the couple divorces but the husband never changes his life insurance beneficiary. A few years after that the husband dies.

Is the ex-wife still the beneficiary?

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