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Explaining the 20/20/20 Rule in Military Divorce

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

My retired Marine and I will be going through divorce proceedings within a few months. We have been married for 23 ½ years. Only nine years of our marriage were while he was on active duty. The rest of the time he was retired.

I would like to have the 20/20/20 explained to me in layman's terms in order to determine if I qualify for any benefits beside a portion of his retirement.


Dear GiGi,

I regret that you are getting a divorce. With the 20/20/20 rule, a spouse would qualify for medical benefits and commissary and exchange privileges for the remainder of their life (as long as they remain unmarried) if ALL of the following requirements are met:

  1. Married for at least 20 years.
  2. Service member performed at least 20 years of service creditable for retirement pay.
  3. You have at least a 20-year overlap of marriage AND military service.

Now, you could receive a portion of his retirement, but there are no absolutes. Every military divorce is different. I have seen a spouse receive half of the service member's retirement. On the other hand, I've seen spouses receive the house and other assets instead of a portion of the retirement.

Truth is, a divorce decree will state everything. Don't go by his word and never do a verbal agreement or "pinky promise."

You need some legal advice and legal representation with a lawyer who knows military divorce. Don't drink the Kool-Aid and think that a judge will take care of you. That won't happen. No one will think you are entitled to anything.

Ex-Partners of Servicemembers for Equality (EX-POSE) is an organization that gives good advice to spouses who are divorcing a service member. Please contact them for more answers.

Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me and for reading the column. Divorce is not easy; it's very stressful. I wish you much success and happiness.

Ms. Vicki

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Ms. Vicki, a native of Dallas, has been the ‘Dear Abby’ for the military community since her column began in 2005. A licensed therapist and licensed clinical social worker, Ms. Vicki holds a Master of Science in social work and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her column has appeared in the Washington (D.C.) Times and in the Heidelberg (Germany) Post Herald. She has been featured on CNN, CBS, ABC and NBC.

Ms. Vicki has retired from writing new columns for Although Ms. Vicki is no longer offering new advice on, you can still email military benefits questions to our Questions and Benefits team. Need military spouse career help? Email our Dear Career writers.