Military life often involves frequent relocations and deployments, and that can put a deep strain on many marriages. Not all of them survive.
The divorce process involving a military spouse is largely the same as any other divorce. State law will largely control how property and debts are divided. Absent any prenuptial or postnuptial agreements, that generally means dividing the marital estate down the middle in a community property state like Louisiana.
Broadly speaking, the military spouse’s retirement pay is also treated similarly to a civilian pension, in that state law again determines what portion of the payments a dependent spouse will be due.
The 20/20/20 rule determines much of the rest
A dependent spouse’s entitlements to other benefits that are directly tied to the military spouse’s service can be more difficult to understand. Everything depends largely on how long a couple was married, how long one spouse was in the military and how many of those years overlap.
Under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act, a former military spouse can retain their right to several of the important benefits they enjoyed during marriage so long as:
- The military spouse has at least 20 years of service that is creditable toward their retirement pay (whether the service member is retired or not).
- They were married to the military spouse for at least 20 years by the time their marriage ended in any fashion other than death.
- At least 20 of those years of marriage overlap with at least 20 years of the military spouse’s service.
This is called the 20/20/20 rule. A former military spouse who meets these requirements will be able to retain their military identification card, access to the commissary and installation privileges after their divorce. They will also retain Tricare coverage. (Former military spouses who don’t quite meet the last part of the 20/20/20 rule but who had at least 15 years where their marriage and their spouse’s creditable service overlapped are entitled to one year of transitional Tricare coverage.)
It is important to keep in mind that exceptions to certain rules may apply and that seeking legal guidance when questions or concerns arise is always an option.