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What You Need to Know About the 20/20/20 Rule

Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I was married to my ex-husband for 16 years, and 14 years of those years overlapped with his 20 years of military service. This was of supposed to have been noted in our divorce, but it isn't in there.

How does it need to be worded? I keep hearing something about a formula that needs to be in divorce decree. Please help.

-- Divorced from a service member

Dear Divorced,

What you are hearing about is likely the 20/20/20 rule. It means:

** The parties have been married for at least 20 years (date of marriage to date of divorce decree or annulment).

** The service member performed at least 20 years of service creditable for retirement pay.

** There is at least a 20-year overlap of marriage and the military service.

I'm not a lawyer, but I do have a lot of experience with military marriages and divorces. Military divorces are very different than most civilian divorces.

I know you are already divorced, but I encourage spouses and service members to get everything put in the divorce decree. I don't mean to frighten you because it's not in your decree. However, I would like for you to speak about this with someone from EX-POSE: Ex-Partners of Servicemembers for Equality. EX-POSE provides information for spouses regarding separation and/or divorce from active-duty, reserve or retired military service members.

You can contact EX-POSE at 703-941-5844 or by email at

In addition, they also help military service members with their questions regarding separation and/or divorce. I think it will be beneficial to you to contact them. Please keep in touch and let me know what you find out. What you learn will be helpful to me and my readers.

-- 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.