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What Happens to Military Benefits After Divorce?

by Steve Fritsch on October 14, 2015

Those who serve in the United States Military make various sacrifices with their time, their lives, and their personal freedoms in order to protect the freedoms that the rest of the people in the country enjoy. In return , members of the military receive various benefits including access to military base services, the military’s health care options, and retirement benefits. Military spouses make their own sacrifices, and share in many of the benefits that their spouse has. But just like civilian marriages sometimes end in divorce, so do military marriages. Depending on various factors, the spouse of a service member may still be able to get some of the benefits they became eligible for during their marriage. In cases where eligibility does not continue, the U.S. Military sometimes helps former spouses make the transition back to civilian life.

Types of Military Benefits Involved

Military benefits come in many different forms, and have different effects on a person’s lifestyle. Two of the most obvious benefits are healthcare and retirement benefits, but less obvious benefits make an impact too. Some of these include

  • The right to live in military housing
  • The right to use military commissaries
  • Access to military exchanges
  • Transitional Health Care through the Dept of Defense (premium based coverage for up to 36 months)
  • Consideration for Spousal and/or Child Support Direct Payments
  • Child Medical Benefits (TRICARE) – the service member must update the information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System along with a copy of the divorce decree
  • Continued Dependent Benefits for Children under 21 or 23 if they are students (does not include stepchildren unless thy have been adopted.)

Factors in Determining Eligibility

There are three main factors that play a role in how extensive or limited military benefits will be for an ex-spouse of a service member after a divorce. These are

  • The length of the marriage
  • The length of the military service
  • The overlap of these two factors

20/20/20 vs. 20/20/15

Ex-spouses receive the most continued benefits after a divorce if they qualify for either 20/20/20 benefits or 20/20/15 benefits. When 20/20/20 is applicable, it means that the marriage to the military member lasted at least 20 years, the military member was in the service for at least 20 years, and there was at least 20 years of overlap. The 20/20/15 eligibility comes into play when there was 20 years of marriage and service, but the overlap was more than 15 years, but less than 20 years. In both instances, benefits for the ex-spouse continue only if the spouse remains unmarried.

20/20/20 Benefits

Those who qualify for 20/20/20 benefits retain a lot of the benefits they enjoyed while they were still married. Many of the daily benefits including access to the commissary, the exchange, and the theater privileged remain, as do medical benefits and retirement benefits. Eligibility for retirement benefits remains even if the service member is not yet retired.

20/20/15 Benefits

For those who only had a 15 year overlap where they were married to the service member while he or she was in the service, the amount of benefits are significantly lessened. These spouses are only able to continue medical benefits, and these only last for one year. They will also not have access to the daily benefits such as the theater, commissary, or the exchange. Retirement benefits are not automatic, but civilian courts are able to look at a service member’s retirement pension as one of their assets and it’s value may be considered along with any other assets when it is being decided how all assets should be distributed.

Other Lost Benefits

Whether the 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 rules are in play, there are some benefits that are lost with the divorce regardless of these service markers. The right to live in installation housing is one thing that is lost. This can actually be a loss for both spouses. In order for a military member to live in family housing, they must live with their family members. If either the service member moves from the housing or the other family members move anyone who is still living in the housing will need to move, usually within 30 days. Exact regulations vary depending on which branch of the service the military member is serving in.

While a couple is still married, however, a service member technically cannot evict their spouse from family housing. This would have to be done by the installation commander.

Shorter Marriages/ Shorter Service

Non-military spouses in military marriages that do not qualify for either the 20/20/20 provision or the 20/20/15 rule typically lose the majority of military benefits when the marriage ends. This includes all the day to day benefits as well as health care. One consolation is that ex spouses can buy coverage through the DoD Continued Health Care Benefit for up to 36 months after the divorce is final with the goal of retaining other coverage when possible.

In addition, military marriages that end while the family is overseas are eligible to receive a complimentary travel back to the states with their family in order to restart their lives.

Spousal and Child Support

The United States Military has strong guidelines when it comes to service member supporting their families, whether they are still married or not. Because of this, it is possible to get direct payments of child support and/or spousal support or a temporary basis.  Overall, the military role in these matters is limited, and final decisions are eventually turned over to non-military courts. Retirement pay is usually considered as part of the service members assets, and is the amount paid is worked out through negotiations.

If you or your spouse are in the military and are contemplating divorce, it’s a good idea to work with a lawyer who has a good grasp on both the military provisions of divorce as well as the civilian ones. At the Law Office of Steven L Fritsch, we are prepared to handle both. Contact us for a free case evaluation.

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