Find out if the spouse is entitled to retirement, benefits and more.
By Kristin R.H. Kirkner, BCS
Unlike a civilian employer, the military offers some continued benefits to former military spouses after a divorce, provided that certain criteria are met. One of the most common questions I am asked is if the former military spouse has any entitlement to the service member’s retirement. The answer is yes. Retirement is an asset that is divided regardless of the length of the marriage, as discussed in some of my other articles. In addition to the division of retirement, a former spouse may also be entitled to commissary and BX/PX privileges, healthcare and dental coverage.
When considering what a spouse may be entitled to receive in a divorce, the baseline consideration is the length of the marriage, the length of the service, and the overlap between the marriage and the military service. In order to retain any benefits, the marriage must have lasted at least 20 years and the service member must have served at least 20 years total. The difference in benefits comes in the amount of time that the service and the marriage overlap.
Do your years of marriage and years of the service member’s military service overlap?
A spouse who has been married less than 20 years or who has less than 15 years of overlap between the marriage and the military service has some limited benefits, but not as many as a spouse has been married to a service member for twenty years, with each of those twenty years overlapping with the amount of time served by the service member. Below you will find the breakdown for the difference in benefits a spouse receives based on the years of marriage, years of service and the overlap between service and the marriage.
A “20/20/20” spouse (20 years married, 20 years of service, 20 years of overlap) can retain nearly identical benefits to those he or she had prior to the dissolution. A 20/20/20 spouse will enjoy full commissary and BX/PX privileges. These privileges will be suspended if the spouse remarries, but will be reinstated if the subsequent marriage ends. A 20/20/20 spouse is also entitled to continue on TriCare and dental until the spouse is eligible for coverage through an employer sponsored health plan or until remarriage, however; if the employment or subsequent marriage ends, the health and dental coverage can be reinstated.
A “20/20/15” spouse (20 years married, 20 years of service, 15 years of overlap) does not retain commissary and BX/PX privileges. A 20/20/15 spouse is eligible for medical coverage for one (1) year and after that one year, the spouse is eligible for coverage under a DOD-negotiated conversion policy, for which the former spouse must pay monthly premiums. The healthcare coverage for the spouse terminates upon remarriage, but can be reinstated if the subsequent marriage ends within the one year time period from the date of dissolution.
Less than 20 years of marriage OR Less than 15 years of marriage/service overlap
A spouse who has been married less than 20 years or who has less than 15 years of overlap between the marriage and the member’s military service is eligible for 36 months of coverage under a premium-based, DOD Continued Health Care Benefit Program. This coverage option terminates on remarriage and cannot be reinstated. A former spouse who is not entitled to BX/PX privileges would not get a military ID card, but may be eligible for an agent card to access the base in order to obtain medical care and benefits for the parties’ minor children.
Who decides what the spouse receives?
Keep in mind that the service member can neither grant nor deny these privileges to the spouse in the divorce. It is wholly a decision made by DFAS based on the length of the marriage, and the length of the service. It is also important to note that the benefits offered by the military to former spouses begin on the date that the final judgment is entered. During the pendency of the divorce, the spouse retains all benefits afforded to a spouse during marriage.
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