Does a Military Spouse Keep Benefits After Divorce?

January 12, 2023

The divorce process can be emotionally and financially difficult, regardless of the circumstances. However, when the divorce involves a military service member, it can become even more complex because many more rules and unique situations apply to these cases that are not encountered during a civilian divorce.

If you are in the process of separating from a US military service member, you likely have questions about whether you will remain eligible for benefits after your divorce is finalized. Common benefits may include TRICARE health insurance, commissary privileges, installation housing, and more. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions, as the eligibility for continued benefits depends on several factors related to your unique situation. A knowledgeable family law attorney with experience in military divorce can explain the rules that apply to these situations and how they may impact your ability to keep benefits after your divorce is finalized.

What is the 20/20/20 Rule?

The law most commonly referenced concerning continuing benefits for ex-spouses of military members is the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act. This act allows states to divide military retirement pay as part of a divorce and provides guidance on special considerations for victims of spousal abuse. This federal law also specifies which former spouses are eligible to continue receiving the benefits they had while married to the service member, such as healthcare, military exchange, and installation privileges.

To qualify for these benefits, the former spouse must meet the requirements of the so-called “20/20/20 rule,” which are as follows:

  • The ex-spouse must have been married to the military member for 20 or more years at the time of the divorce.
  • The military member must have served a minimum of 20 years that can be credited towards their retirement pay.
  • The duration of the marriage must have overlapped with at least 20 years of the military member’s service.

If the former spouse does not meet all three of these requirements, they will be unable to maintain their benefits after the divorce. For example, if the couple was married for 25 years, but the military member was only serving for 12 of those years, then the ex-spouse would not receive any continuing benefits. The 20/20/20 rule only applies to ex-spouses who have not remarried. Marrying again will disqualify the individual from receiving benefits.

What is the 20/20/15 Rule?

One exception to the 20/20/20 rule involves healthcare coverage through TRICARE. Some ex-spouses may be able to retain their coverage if they meet the following criteria, known as the “20/20/15 rule”:

  • Their marriage to the service member lasted 20 years or more.
  • The service member was active in the military for at least 20 creditable years.
  • At least 15 years of the marriage occurred while the military member was performing their creditable service.

While meeting all three of these standards qualifies the former spouse for TRICARE coverage, they will not receive any of the other military benefits retained by those who meet the 20/20/20 rule.

Are Ex-Spouses Able to Stay in Installation Housing After Their Divorce?

Unfortunately, former spouses are generally required to leave installation family housing within 30 days after the military member moves out due to the divorce. The housing situation can become even more complicated if the service member and their family are stationed overseas at the time of the split. In some cases, it may be possible to get the moving costs from overseas covered by the military.

Individuals may also be able to negotiate relocation costs as part of their divorce agreement, no matter where they reside. Because losing current housing is a typical result of a military divorce, a divorce attorney will take moving and housing expenses into account when negotiating a settlement.

Are There Options to Maintain TRICARE Health Benefits After a Divorce?

Even if you do not qualify for health benefits under the 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 rules, you may still be able to keep your healthcare for a period of time. TRICARE gives recently divorced military spouses the option to purchase up to 36 months of temporary healthcare. However, this is only a viable option if the ex-spouse is able to afford the premiums.

While the ex-spouse may lose their healthcare benefits, any eligible shared biological or adopted children of the military member will continue to be covered under TRICARE. This coverage continues until the child is 21. If they enroll in college, the coverage is extended until they are 23.

How Can a Military Divorce Lawyer Help You?

When proceeding with a divorce, it is critical to fully understand your rights so you can make the best possible choices for yourself and your family. There are many rules that pertain specifically to military divorces, making it vital to have a strong legal advocate on your side who has a deep knowledge of applicable federal and state laws.

Various circumstances can affect the terms of your military divorce settlement. Reaching out to a trusted attorney for legal advice tailored to your unique situation is recommended. An experienced, compassionate military divorce attorney will look out for your best interests and ensure you receive the benefits and compensation you are entitled to as a former military spouse.

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