If I get a divorce, will I lose my military benefits? This is a common question among military spouses, concerned that they’ll have nothing to show from the military after years of their own sacrifices during marriage. The Military Divorce Guide is a complete resource, with comprehensive articles explaining the details of those benefits, what’s divisible in a divorce, and what a former military spouse may be legally entitled to after divorce.
But if you would like a quick cheat sheet of those benefits without making your head spin, our brand-new article, Explanation of Divorced Spouse Military Benefits, is for you. We go through each of the benefits which military spouses have come to rely on, and let you know whether they are available post-divorce. And as with this blog post, we have links after each of the benefits for a much more in-depth discussion of how the benefit works.
Here’s the same information presented in a different way – by length of marriage, instead of by type of benefit. So if your marriage was 10 years, you can quickly scan through the list below and see exactly which benefits are available to you, again with links to more complete discussions in the Guide articles.
Starting upon marriage (i.e. a brand-new marriage), the benefits are limited, but they are gradually added the longer the marriage until you reach the “gold standard” – 20/20/20 status, where there are at least 20 years of marriage, 20 years of service, and 20 years of overlap.
Former Spouse Benefits for Marriage of Any Duration
The following benefits are available to a former military spouse regardless of the duration of the marriage.
Courts can award a former spouse a share of the military retirement even after just a brief marriage. But the shorter a marriage, the less valuable such an award is.
With a brief marriage of 1-2 years, near the beginning of a member’s careers, a judge may well consider that between the fact that the retirement is speculative (i.e. not at all likely to happen), plus the former spouse’s share would be so tiny (de minimis, in legal terms) that it’s not worth dividing. And also note that with fewer than 10 years of marriage overlapping service the retiree will have to pay the retirement to the former spouse each month, as direct payment from DFAS is not available. For more information about the division of a military pension, see the Military Retirement section of the Military Divorce Guide.
Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)
The TSP is a defined contribution plan, similar to a 401(k) or IRA, available to members of the military. And because the new Blended Retirement System means an employer match, the TSP will become an increasingly valuable asset subject to division at the time of divorce. For more information, see the Understanding Military Retirement Pay article in the Military Divorce Guide.
Tricare Continued Health Care Benefit Program
CHCBP is not Tricare, but, rather, a much more expensive benefit, similar to COBRA benefits on civilian medical care. For a premium (currently $1453 per quarter for an individual in 2019), the former spouse may continue Tricare coverage for three years, or, if the spouse is unremarried and either receiving a share of the military retirement or SBP, indefinite coverage. For more information, see the Military Health Benefits for Divorced Spouses article in the Military Divorce Guide.
Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an extraordinarily valuable benefit, which provides a member or family member with up to $160K of benefits towards a college degree, comprised of a monthly housing allowance, tuition reimbursement, and a book/supply stipend. Per federal law, the court may not order the division of this benefit – a former spouse may only use it if the spouse were an eligible beneficiary at the time of divorce, and the member agrees to share it. For more information, see the Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits in a Divorce article in the Military Divorce Guide.
VA Disability Payments
Veterans Administration disability payments are not a divisible asset, regardless of how long the parties have been married. Federal law prohibits states from dividing this, or even from ordering “indemnity” to a former spouse whose share of the military retirement is reduced by a VA Waiver. However, if maintenance or child support is ordered, VA disability payments are included as income to the veteran/retiree. So by virtue of the payments not being invisible to the domestic relations court, the former spouse may see some benefit from them. For more information, see the VA Disability in a Divorce article in the Military Divorce Guide.
1 Year of Marriage (Unless Other Conditions Met)
Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)
SBP is analogous to a life insurance policy on the military retirement. Retirement payments stop upon the death of the retiree, so without SBP, the beneficiaries receive nothing after the retiree’s death. SBP, available for a monthly premium, ensures the continuation of payments. However, SBP also requires that the spouses be married at the time of retirement, have a child together, or that they be married for at least one year by the time of death. Note also that legally permissible does not mean it will be awarded. Without several years of marriage, a family law court may decide the former spouse’s insurable interest in the retirement is not high enough to justify ordering SBP coverage. For more information about SBP in a divorce, read the Survivor Benefit Plan article in the Military Divorce Guide.
10 Years of Marriage (Overlapping Military Service)
Direct Payment of Military Retirement from DFAS
As indicated, military retirement may be divided by a court regardless of the duration of marriage. But as long as the couple was married for at least 10 years during the member’s career, DFAS will pay the former spouse’s share directly to the former spouse. This so-called 10/10 Rule has created a myth that spouses with fewer than 10 years of marriage are not entitled to a share of the military retirement. For more information, see the Direct Payment of Military Retirement from DFAS article in the Military Divorce Guide.
20 Years of Marriage (Overlapping 15 Years of Service)
20/20/15 Health Benefits
A former spouse who was married for at least 20 years to the member, during which the member served at least 20 years, and there were at least 15 years of overlap, is entitled to 1 year of transitional medical benefits. This means Tricare, at Tricare prices, not CHCBP prices! For more information, see the Military Health Benefits for Divorced Spouses article in the Military Divorce Guide.
20 Years of Marriage (Overlapping 20 Years of Service)
20/20/20 benefits means the full gauntlet of benefits available to ID card holders. The former spouse retains an ID card and all benefits that go along with it, including Tricare medical, access to military installations, the commissary, etc. To qualify, the couple must have been married for at least 20 years overlapping the member’s military career. For more information, see the Military Health Benefits for Divorced Spouses article in the Military Divorce Guide.
20/20/20 and 20/20/15 benefits are statutory entitlements, not a bargaining chip that the military member can use during negotiations. If the former spouse qualifies, the benefits flow, and if the former spouse does not meet the criteria, no benefits are possible, no matter what the judge may order. There is one small bit of room for negotiation – if the member is still in the military and the couple is close to attaining 20/20/20 status when the divorce starts, they may agree to delay the divorce slightly, or even obtain a legal separation, until the former spouse reaches 20/20/20 status.