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Determining Military Benefits after Divorce

May 21, 2018

Determining military benefits for a non-service member spouse of a service member after a divorce can be a complex matter. A former spouse's benefits will end at 12:01 a.m. on the day of the divorce, unless he or she meets certain requirements. The type and amount of TRICARE benefits a former spouse receives depends on a few hardline factors.  The Uniformed Services former Spouse Protection Act provides certain benefits to former spouses of military member. 10 U.S.C. § 1072.  A former spouse must meet the criteria of one of the following categories to be eligible for military TRICARE benefits after a divorce:

Full Military Benefits - 20/20/20 Rule

Not surprisingly, for a spouse to retain full military benefits (medical coverage through TRICARE, access to the military exchange, base privileges and commissary privileges) he or she must meet the strictest set of requirements. Specifically, the former spouse must qualify under what is commonly referred to as the “20/20/20 Rule.” The 20/20/20 Rule, found in 10 U.S.C. § 1072(2)(F), requires the former spouse to show three things: first, that the service member put in at least 20 years of creditable service; second, that the parties’ marriage lasted at least 20 years; and third, that the period of the marriage overlapped the period of service by at least 20 years. The parties, however, could be separated for several years and still meet the necessary requirements for a 20/20/20 former spouse. As long as all three 20s are met on the date the judge signs a divorce decree, the former spouse will retain full benefits.

Transitional Military Benefits – 20/20/15 Rule

In the event a former spouse cannot qualify under the 20/20/20 Rule, he or she may still be eligible to retain a portion of their military benefits as they transition from being a military spouse to a former spouse. The requirements of the 20/20/15 Rule, found in 10 U.S.C. § 1072(2)(G), requires the former spouse to show three things: first, that the service member put in at least 20 years of creditable service; second, that the parties’ marriage lasted at least 20 years; and third, that the period of the marriage overlapped the period of service by at least 15 years. If these requirements are met, the former spouse will be entitled to retain TRICARE medical coverage, but only for a transitional period of one year. Unlike a 20/20/20 former spouse, a 20/20/15 former spouse will not have access to the military exchange, base privileges or commissary privileges.

Facts to Highlight

  • The important dates for measuring the three different year components of the 20/20/20 Rule and the 20/20/15 rule are the service member’s start and end dates for their creditable service, the date the parties were married, and the date the parties are divorced. These are hard line rules. There are no exceptions for couples who come close to meeting temporal requirements.
  • The time requirements are measured by credible service years. In many instances, not all time served in the military will count toward creditable service years. For example, overlap with reserve time does not count as creditable service for purposes of active duty benefits.
  • All of the benefits previously mentioned can be suspended, terminated, and in some cases reinstated depending on the actions taken by the former non-service member spouse after separation and divorce.
  • A service member’s biological and adopted children stay eligible for TRICARE until they age out. However, there are instances after a divorce when children can lose commissary, exchange, or Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) privileges.

Divorce can be a multifaceted matter and fraught with serious financial and emotional consequences. Assuring your family remains insured after a divorce is often a high priority.  Understanding the basics of how military benefits are determined after a divorce is an important step in developing a plan for you and your family.

Adrianne Williams is a Pender & Coward attorney focusing her practice on divorce and family law matters. 

Filed Under: Blog Category 1