What Are the Rights and Benefits of Former Military Spouses?

Divorce is a stressful and complicated time for anyone, but it can be a particularly trying experience for military spouses, who are often stationed far away from their friends and loved ones while facing divorce proceedings. Military divorces pose unique issues. Many spouses divorcing a service member are concerned about whether the benefits they enjoy as military spouses will continue after their divorce.

The law typically allows for a military divorce to be filed in the state where either the husband or wife has legal residence. This generally means that the person who started the divorce files in the state where he or she is a resident. It’s important to bear in mind that the state where a military member resides has the ability to divide the military pension in a divorce. Therefore, if you file for divorce in a state that isn’t the state of residence of the military member, then the court may not be able to divide the pension.

Overview of the United Services Former Spouse Protection Act

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) addresses concerns that military spouses may have about their rights and benefits after a divorce. Under the USFSPA, a former spouse can be designated as a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) beneficiary. SBP is an annuity that allows retired service members to provide continued income to the beneficiary in the event of their death. Retiring service members are enrolled in SBP unless they choose not to participate.

The USFSPA also allows former spouses to continue receiving commissary, exchange, and health care benefits after a divorce. In order to qualify for these continued benefits, a former spouse must prove the following:

  • The service member has 20 years of creditable service
  • The marriage lasted at least 20 years
  • The marriage overlapped with the period of service for at least 20 years

A former spouse meeting these requirements is referred to as a 20/20/20 former spouse. A 20/20/20 former spouse receives full health care, commissary, and exchange benefits. The health care benefits are provided through TRICARE and military treatment facilities. Former spouses who do not meet the 20/20/20 requirement will lose their commissary and exchange privileges as soon as the divorce is final.

If a service member has 20 years of creditable service and the marriage lasted 20 years, but the marriage overlapped with the period of service by only 15 years, then the former spouse will only be entitled to full medical benefits for one year following the divorce. These former spouses are known as 20/20/15 former spouses. In order to maintain full coverage, however, the former spouse cannot remarry or join an employer-sponsored health plan. After this one-year transitional period, the 20/20/15 former spouse will be eligible to purchase a conversion health policy negotiated by the Department of Defense.

Former spouses who are not 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 are not eligible for any military health benefits after a divorce, but they are eligible to receive temporary health care coverage from the DOD Continued Health Care Benefit Program, which provides 36 months of coverage. In order to qualify for this coverage, a former spouse must enroll within 60 days of losing full military health care benefits.

Are Former Spouses Entitled to a Portion of Retirees’ Retired Pay?

There is no law that automatically entitles a former military spouse to a retiree’s military retired pay. Nevertheless, a former spouse is eligible to receive direct payments from a retiree’s retired pay if the court order satisfies specific requirements and conditions.

State courts are authorized to divide military retired pay as a marital asset or as community property in divorce proceedings. In order for a former spouse to qualify for direct payments of retired pay under the USFSPA, the former spouse must have been married to the service member for 10 years or more and the service member must have had at least 10 years of creditable service during that time.

Speak with a Columbus, Ohio Military Divorce Attorney

If you have any questions about your rights and benefits as a former military spouse, don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are a Columbus, Ohio military divorce attorney with extensive experience handling divorce cases on behalf of service members and military spouses.