Paycheck Chronicles

From The Mailbag: Former Spouse Benefits


What sort of benefit does a former military spouse retain?  As with nearly everything military, that depends.  In general, military benefits end effective the date of the divorce.  However, there are three categories of people who may retain some non-monetary military benefits after the divorce is final. (This post is not about the division of military retirement pay, which is not a benefit from the military itself but rather part of the division of assets in a marriage.)

20/20/20 Benefits

For a long marriage that overlaps military service, the former spouse may retain access to medical coverage (unless provided by his or her own employer provided plan), commissary and exchange shopping privileges, and other base benefits, such as MWR facilities and legal services.

Eligibility for these benefits is determined based upon having all three of these things.

  • The marriage must have lasted for 20 years. AND
  • The military member must have served for 20 years. AND
  • The marriage and the military service must have overlapped by 20 years.
20/20/20 former spouses retain their benefit for life, unless they remarry.  In the event of remarriage, Tricare benefits end permanently. Base privileges and shopping benefits may be reinstated if the subsequent marriage ends due to death, divorce, or annulment.

Note:  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.

Former spouses of reservists who have served for 20 years of creditable service may be eligible for 20/20/20 benefits.  Read more at Reserve Service and 20/20/20 Benefits.

20/20/15 Benefits

For a marriage that does not meet the qualifications for 20/20/20 benefits, there may still be some benefits.  The 20/20/15 rule offers only Tricare medical coverage, and only for one year.  Eligibility for 20/20/15 benefits require that:

  • The marriage must have lasted 20 years. AND
  • The military member served for 20 years. AND
  • The marriage and the military service must have overlapped by 15 years.
Just like with 20/20/20 benefits, 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.

Transitional Compensation for Abused Dependents

The military has a special program for the dependents of military members who are separated from the service as the result of abuse of those dependents.  The transitional benefits program helps these families get back on their feet without the former service member.  They may include financial compensation, shopping benefits, and limited medical and dental benefits.  Transitional compensation may last up to 36 months.

This program is unusual and a little complicated.  If you know someone who may be eligible for these benefits, please have them speak with their Family Advocacy Program contact.

While most former military spouses are not eligible for military benefits, those in these three categories may have benefits available. In the case of 20/20/20 or 20/20/15 benefits, specific timing can be important to eligibility. Understanding these rules can help you, or a friend or relative, get the benefits to which they are eligible.

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