Most spouses of active duty servicemembers contribute greatly to the marriage. They stay behind and take care of the children when the Marine, Sailor, Airman, Soldier or Coast Guardsman is deployed. They support the member through advancement in rank. They uproot their lives every few years as the family moves from duty station to duty station.
The select few members that make a career out of their service are rewarded with monthly retired pay for the rest of their lives and additional benefits as retired servicemembers. Should the marriage continue, the spouse (and family) will share in those benefits. If the marriage ends, however, what – if anything – will the member’s former spouse receive? This is the first in a series of posts that will take a closer look at the benefits available to former spouses of servicemembers.
Some former spouses will be entitled to retain full benefits: medical coverage through Tricare, access to the military exchange, base privileges and commissary privileges. Not surprisingly, for a spouse to retain full military benefits he or she must meet the strictest set of requirements. Specifically, the former spouse must qualify under what is commonly referred to as the “20/20/20 Rule.”
The 20/20/20 Rule, found in 10 U.S.C. § 1072(2)(F), requires the former spouse to show three things: first, that the servicemember put in at least 20 years of creditable service; second, that the parties’ marriage lasted at least 20 years; and third, that the period of the marriage overlapped the period of service by at least 20 years.
These benefits can be suspended, terminated, and in some cases then reinstated depending on the actions taken by the former spouse after separation and divorce. If the former spouse is covered by an employer-sponsored health care plan, their medical benefits will be suspended. Should the former spouse remarry, their base privileges, commissary privileges, and access to the military exchange will be suspended. However, if the subsequent marriage ends for any reason, these privileges will be reinstated. Remarriage will also terminate the former spouse’s medical benefits– and these benefits will not not be reinstated if the subsequent marriage ends.
The important dates for measuring the three different 20 year components of the 20/20/20 Rule are the servicemember’s start and end dates for their creditable service, the date the parties were married, and the date the parties are divorced. Like the 10/10 Rule, parties could be separated for several years and still meet the necessary requirements for a 20/20/20 former spouse. As long as on the date the judge signs a divorce decree all three 20s are met, the former spouse will retain full benefits.
If you are a servicemember or spouse contemplating divorce, the ability to keep full military benefits may be the single most important factor in your case. If at all possible, you should seek to meet the requirements of the 20/20/20 Rule. When there is simply no way to meet those requirements, however, the former spouse may still be entitled to retain some military benefits, which we will cover in parts 2 and 3 of this series. Please bookmark this site, and check back for those posts over the next couple of weeks.
The military divorce lawyers at Livesay & Myers, P.C. have extensive experience with the unique issues that arise in military divorce cases, including former spouse benefits. We represent servicemembers and spouses in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Manassas, Woodbridge, Prince William County, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and throughout Northern Virginia. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.