Divorce is a complicated matter, without adding in other factors. However, if your spouse is or was in the Military, it might bring along other situations that must be taken into account. Like for example, the Military Benefits for former spouses.

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act

According to Military one source, it is dictated by the act that:

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act is a federal law that provides certain benefits to former spouses of military members. An un-remarried former spouse may receive medical, commissary, exchange, and theater privileges under the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program if he or she meets the requirements of what is known as the 20/20/20 rule.

The 20/20/20 Rule

  • The primary rule is called the 20/20/20 rule.  It has this name because it applies to former spouses who meet these criteria:
  • The two parties were married for 20 years,
  • The military member served for 20 years,
  • The marriage and the military service overlapped by 20 years, and

The 20/20/15 Rule

The 20/20/15 rule offers only Tricare medical coverage, and for a limited period of time.  Eligibility for 20/20/15 benefits require that:

  • The two parties were married for 20 years,
  • The military member served for 20 years, and
  • The marriage and the military service overlapped by 15 years.

What Are The Effects Of Divorce On Military Benefits?

Military one source lists the following:

Installation housing  — The former spouse will typically lose installation family housing within 30 days of the service member or other family members moving out due to a divorce.

Moving costs  — The military may pay the moving expenses of the non-military spouse returning home from an overseas duty station. The divorcing parties could negotiate the cost of an in-state move as part of the settlement.

Health care benefits  — When you lose TRICARE benefits because of divorce, you can buy up to 36 months of temporary health care coverage through the Department of Defense Continued Health Care Benefit program. To check eligibility and other information, visit the  TRICARE website.

Biological and adopted children of the service member may receive TRICARE benefits up to age 21 (or age 23 if enrolled in college).

Spousal and child support  — Each military service has policies requiring service members to support family members upon separation in the absence of an agreement or court order. These policies are designed to be temporary. A commander’s authority is limited without a court order. You must send the court order to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service directing the government to pay monies for support or alimony.

What Military Benefits Do Former Spouses Enjoy?

For detailed information on what happens to military spouses and their benefits after divorce, here’s a detailed discussion in relation to specific benefits.

What Happens to Military Benefits?

State laws can have some impact on military spouse separation. Some states can allow legal separation instead of divorce. You should talk to a seasoned Alabama divorce lawyer to get detailed information.

When a legal separation is an option in a jurisdiction (instead of divorce), the government (Department of Defense) treats such a scenario as it would treat married couples. As a result, if you are legally separated, you will still get your benefits. You are treated as a spouse until you finally divorce or after eventualities like death.

Legal separation can allow the legally separated spouse to get access to most benefits enjoyed by married couples. However, some benefits like military retirement are determined when entering into a legal separation agreement. As mentioned above, the legal separation period also matters.

Military Retirement

There’s a lot of money involved in cases of military retirement for divorced couples. Retirement is easily among the most (if not the most) valuable assets a spouse can accumulate during marriage. Most importantly, it is considered a military asset that is usually divided after legal separation or divorce.

Military retirement can be divided even if a marriage has lasted for a short time. However, there are special rules based on the years of marriage. For instance, payment commences after a service member retires. If there are 10 or more years of marriage overlapping military service, a former spouse will directly get their share. Payment can also be divided into fewer years of overlap; however, payments are typically sent monthly.

Main Military Benefits For Former Spouses


The US military offers the Thrift Savings Plan as a defined contribution savings plan like 401(k). The TSP enjoys matching contributions from the military, replacing some traditional military pension plans partially. TSP is divisible in the event of a legal separation or divorce, and a former spouse has the right to roll over their share into qualifying accounts like Rollover IRA.

Veterans Administration Disability Payments

A former spouse can also enjoy VA disability payments in some instances i.e. when payments count as income in the event there is child support or alimony involved.

Medical Benefits

Former spouses who meet statutory requirements can receive Tricare whether a court orders it or not during a divorce. However, if the federal government chooses to deny former spouses such benefits, state courts can’t do anything to change such as stance.

However, former spouses should get CHCBP for some time (usually three years). This benefit is a version of Tricare. The benefit is subject to some requirements. For instance, a spouse must remain unmarried. The former spouse also needs to have been awarded some benefits i.e., a share of SBP or military retirement. Since CHCBP isn’t cheap (approximately $484 monthly) it may be better to buy insurance cover that extends the benefit.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

As per the Post-9/11 GI Bill, there are special benefits (tuition, monthly housing allowance, and book stipend) worth thousands of dollars. The benefit isn’t just for service members. Members can transfer the benefit to spouses and children provided they meet certain requirements. Most importantly, divorce doesn’t eliminate Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, provided a service member agrees that their former spouse continues to receive the benefits.

While members can agree to give former spouses the benefit, members may not be obliged to do so in some cases. Federal law can prohibit a state court from dividing Post-9/11 GI bill benefits during a divorce. To understand in-depth whether this benefit is applicable in your scenario and to what extent, talk to a seasoned divorce attorney with in-depth knowledge on military divorce.

Military Housing After Divorce

Generally, family members (which includes an ex-spouse) have the right to live in a military house for a certain period (usually 30 days) after which they should depart. However, a seasoned divorce attorney can advise accordingly on alternatives in case the 30-day benefit is inadequate.

BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing)

The military has guidelines that members must meet on living expenses for former spouses. For instance, a military member will be required to pay BAH for separate living conditions while a civilian court order is pending. The amount is determined as per the national rate, subject to some adjustments. What’re more, payments stop after divorce or because of a court order. A domestic relations judge decides on child support and spousal support if there is a court order.

To get specifics on the basic allowance, you may be entitled to for housing, talk to a divorce attorney. Former spouses may not be entitled to this benefit in some circumstances.

Access To Military Installation

Non-military parents with children who are military ID cardholders can get access to military installations. Dependent children (aged less than 10) aren’t issued IDs in typical cases. However, in a divorce, they can get IDs as per joint regulation. This applies in some cases i.e., if the child isn’t living with a sponsor. Access to military installations comes with unique benefits like shopping at military bases at a discount and other recreational benefits.

While the above information summarizes military benefits for former spouses, there’s obviously more to the direct and indirect benefits enjoyed by former spouses of military service members. What’s more, some benefits may be subject to special processes like court interpretation. It is also possible to claim benefits that wouldn’t normally be available if you have good legal representation.

You need a divorce attorney with experience in handling military divorces to ensure you get the benefits you deserve. State laws and other unique circumstances can deny you rightful benefits. The specifics of your case also matter. Most importantly, the powers of a former spouse to grant or deny benefits are usually limited to non-existent.

Before accepting default military benefits as a former spouse, talk to an experienced divorce attorney first. 

If you are still hesitant about benefits or processes, the best way to proceed is to find a lawyer with ample experience in Military divorce. If you are looking for one in the state of Alabama, don’t hesitate on giving us a call for a consultation.

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    About The Author

    Charlotte Christian, Esq. is a family and divorce lawyer and founder of Charlotte Christian Law. Born and raised in the Yellowhammer State she still calls home, Charlotte is committed to helping those who experienced loss overcome their hardships and build a new life, stronger and more resilient than they were before. No stranger to trauma herself, including enduring the sudden losses of her father while a young child and husband after 10 years of marriage, Charlotte knows what it means practically and legally to put the pieces in place to create a future filled with security, hope, and opportunity, and find happiness once again. An avid sports fan, you can find Charlotte supporting SEC Athletics.

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