Paycheck Chronicles

Military Benefit for Former Spouses: The 20/20/20 Rule


While divorce is essentially a civil issue, there are certain aspects of a divorce that are unique to the military.  One important consideration is how the 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 rules will impact post-divorce benefits for the former spouses of military service members or retirees.  These rules provide certain post-divorce military benefits and privileges to former spouses of military service members.

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, and
  • the marriage and the military service overlapped by 20 years.
Under the 20/20/20 rule, the former spouse retains most military benefits and privileges after the divorce, including access to Tricare health care coverage (with certain restrictions), commissary and exchange shopping privileges, and other base privileges such as the MWR facilities.  Former spouses who are covered under employer-provided health coverage are not eligible to also use Tricare, but may decline employer-sponsored health care coverage if it is optional.

If the former spouse remarries, 20/20/20 benefits end.  In this situation, Tricare benefits end permanently.  Shopping benefits may be reinstated if the subsequent marriage ends due to death, divorce, or annulment.

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.
Former spouses who qualify for 20/20/15 benefits will be eligible for Tricare health insurance coverage for one year from the date of divorce or annulment.  Again, former spouses who are eligible for employer-sponsored health coverage through their employment are not eligible for the Tricare benefit, unless their plan is optional and they do not use it.

More information about Former Spouse medical coverage can be found at the Tricare website.

Creditable reserve service may count towards 20/20/20 benefits.  Read more at Reserve Service and 20/20/20 Benefits.

These benefits can make a big difference to a former spouse, and should be considered as part of any divorce process.  The timing of a divorce, or a retirement, may impact the eligibility for these valuable benefits.  Strategic planning can provide the maximum benefit for both parties.



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