Military spouses give a lot in support of their servicemember partners. Sometimes, the strain of active military duty, veterans’ issues, or other stresses can push military marriages too far. When that happens, you need to understand the available military benefits for divorced spouses so that you and your divorce attorney can make sure you receive a fair and equitable divorce settlement.
This is the first in a series of blog posts that will discuss how divorce affects the military benefits of divorced spouses. This post will provide an overview of the benefits that apply after divorce. Future blog posts will dig deeper into many of those benefits, so you can make an informed decision when considering any settlement or preparing for trial.
What are a Military Spouse’s Benefits After Divorce?
When your marriage to a U.S. military service member or veteran ends, it can take with it many assets and benefits related to your ex-spouse’s service. Former military spouses may retain some military benefits after divorce, but they may lose, or be required to pay more for, other military benefits.
The What the 20/20/20 Rule Means for the Military Benefits for Divorced Spouses
The federal Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act awards certain military benefits to divorced spouses of military members. As long as you remain unmarried after your divorce, you can receive certain benefits related to medical treatment, commissary, exchange and theater privileges under the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program. However, to qualify, the 20/20/20 rule must be met:
A marriage of 20 years as of the date of divorce
20 years of creditable military service (counting toward retired pay)
20 years’ overlap between the marriage and the creditable military service
Certain medical benefits under TRICARE medical coverage only require 20/20/15 – 20 years of marriage, 20 years of service, and a 15 overlap between marriage and service. However, without those remaining 5 years, a former spouse of a military service member will not receive the full range of military benefits and privileges after divorce.
Former Spouses’ TRICARE Benefits After Divorce
A former military spouse is not covered by their ex-spouse’s TRICARE medical benefits after the divorce is entered. Children (biological or adopted) of the servicemember may continue to receive TRICARE benefits until at least age 21. However, a former military spouse will need to buy their own coverage from the Department of Defense’s Continued Health Care Benefit program. You can use this program to keep your TRICARE benefits for 12 to 36 months after the Judgment of Divorce is entered, depending on whether you meet the 20/20/15 or 20/20/20 rule.
Spousal Support and Child Support
The military requires its members to support their spouses and children even during a period of separation prior to divorce. However, you may be able to receive additional relief by pursuing a temporary support order through the Colorado courts. Child and spousal support orders can be enforced by sending a copy of the court orders to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). That allows family support money to be paid directly to the non-service member spouse, improving your chances of actually receiving what is owed.
Survivor Benefit Plans for Divorced Spouses
Divorced spouses may be eligible beneficiaries for military survivor benefits (SBP). This benefit operates like a life insurance policy on the servicemember’s military retirement. However, this is an optional benefit that involves an additional monthly premium to make certain SBP benefits will continue after the retiree’s death. For some former military spouses, however, SBP coverage is one of the most valuable parts of the military benefits available for divorced spouses.
Housing and Relocation
After a divorce, a former military spouse will generally lose access to installation family housing, as well as an active duty service member’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH). However, this amount may be considered as income in determining the correct spousal support and child support amounts. This gives non-service member spouses access to a portion of the BAH benefit, even if indirectly. If you were living overseas at the time of your divorce, the military may also pay your moving expenses to return home.
Are Military Benefits Part of Your Division of Assets During Divorce?
Military Pensions for Divorced Spouses
Most servicemembers work toward receiving a military pension. After a long-term marriage, with a lengthy service history, the value of a servicemember’s military pension can be substantial. In short-term marriages, judges may rule the award “speculative” or uncertain. However, as the family’s time in the military increases, so does the value of that pension. In a divorce, the Colorado family court can divide that interest between the parties. Depending on the length of the marriage, DFAS can issue military pension payments to former spouses directly, or it can be paid by one spouse to the other.
Similarly, a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which is similar to a 401(k) or IRA, is treated just like a civilian retirement account by Colorado state courts. A TSP earned and accumulated during the marriage can be divided between the parties as part of their divorce.
Veterans Administration Disability Benefits are Not Property
Unlike military retirement assets, a veteran’s disability payments are not divisible by state courts, even if you were married when the injury occurred. Federal law prevents state courts from dividing VA Disability benefits, or even requiring the veteran to “offset” the reduction of other retirement benefits caused by the spouse qualifying for disability. However, VA disability benefits do include payments for dependents, and do count as income, so they could result in increased child or spousal support orders.
Educational Benefits Cannot Be Divided
Servicemembers and veterans are also entitled to educational benefits through the Post 9/11 GI Bill. These benefits can cover tuition, housing, books, and a stipend totaling up to $160,000. According to federal law, this educational benefit cannot be divided as part of a divorce. However, a former spouse who was an eligible beneficiary at the time may sometimes still make use of the benefit if the service member spouse agrees.