What is the 20/20/20 rule for military spouses? Military spouses who get divorced may be entitled to benefits that include continued options for coverage under TRICARE, and being awarded a portion of the service member’s retirement pay, but this is not automatic. In the simplest possible terms, the “20/20/20 rule” refers to benefits that a divorced military spouse may be entitled to even though the spouse is no longer considered a “dependent” or “mil spouse”.
20/20/20 Benefit Requirements (who is entitled):
- 20 years married AND
- 20 years of service creditable for retirement pay AND
- 20 year overlap of marriage AND military service
The spouse receiving these benefits will get them only as long as they do not remarry. The moment the eligible spouse remarries, 20/20/20 benefits will cease. An ex-spouse who does not remarry will enjoy 20/20/20 rule benefits for life.
What Are The 20/20/20 Rule Benefits?
Those eligible will retain their official DoD military ID card which is honored anywhere spouses are allowed including Commissary facilities and Base Exchanges (BX/PX) and even military discounts from private businesses. But the most important of these benefits for most spouses is the ability to continue using TRICARE.
Using TRICARE Under The 20/20/20 Rule
Continuation of the TRICARE benefit for those affected by this rule is not automatic. TRICARE requires un-remarried former military spouses to register under their own name and Social Security Number.
Applicants for this benefit will need to provide documentation to TRICARE including the original marriage certificate, divorce decree, and the applicable proof of military service or retirement from military service. The applicant will be listed under their own name when renewing TRICARE following the official date of divorce.
The TRICARE 20/20/15 Rule
Some applicants may be eligible for TRICARE coverage even without meeting the full 20/20/20 rule requirements. According to the TRICARE official site, the requirements in these cases are that the service member serves 20 years, the marriage lasted 20 years, and at least 15 of those years overlap the military service.
In these cases, TRICARE coverage is “determined by the date your marriage ended”. 20/20/15 applies ONLY to TRICARE and not to military ID card, commissary, and BX/PX privileges.
TRICARE 20/20/15 Is Not For Life
The 20/20/15 rule for military divorces that happen on or after Sept. 28, 1988, entitles the ex-spouse to TRICARE coverage for one year only.
Dependent Children Do Not Need 20/20/20 Benefits
The children of a military member are still entitled to their ID card, TRICARE coverage and other benefits. This is true until the dependents are 22 or until they marry, whichever comes first.
Does The 20/20/20 Rule Entitle The Divorced Spouse To Military Retirement Pay?
The short answer is no. This issue is covered by a federal law known as The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act which recognizes the legal ability of state courts “to distribute military retired pay to a spouse or former spouse (hereafter, the former spouse), and…provides a method of enforcing these orders through the Department of Defense” according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service official site.
That means that the terms and conditions of division of military pay including retirement pay and other assets will be determined in a State court of law. According to the Department of Defense, final decrees of divorce, dissolution, annulment, legal separation, and court-ordered property settlements are legally enforceable under the The Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act.
Divorce Court Decisions Are A Separate Issue
It is very important to remember that the 20/20/20 rule is separate from what happens in divorce court. The military couple affected by 20/20/20 are still required to legally settle all matters related to assets, pay, retirement, child support, etc. in a court of law or with legally binding agreements that address all pertinent areas not covered by the 20/20/20 rule.
Furthermore, all of the issues related to the benefits offered to qualifying former military spouses are dependent on having a legally recognized divorce decree. These benefits do not mention separations, trial separations, or other non-divorce living situations.
Unfortunately every divorce is different and there is no clear answer or script that can be followed. For more assistance with your specific circumstances, EX-POSE: Ex-Partners of Servicemembers for Equality, is a good resource for answers. EX-POSE is non-profit dedicated to helping those going through military separation and/or divorce.
20/20/20 Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if a former military spouse re-marries?
If a former military spouse remarries, 20/20/20 benefits end. Tricare benefits end permanently and base privileges, commissary privileges, and access to the military exchange will be suspended. However, if the subsequent marriage ends for any reason (death or dissolution), these privileges will be reinstated.
Can a former military spouse get Tricare benefits if an employer-sponsored health care plan ends?
Yes, former spouses medical benefits are suspended if they have an employer-sponsored health care plan but that suspension is lifted should they no longer be covered.
What if a servicemember’s career is under 20 year?
The former spouse is NOT entitled to any benefits, regardless of the length of marriage.
What if the servicemember took early retirement before 20 years of service?
Unfortunately there is no special rule for former spouse’s. The servicemember would still be entitled to Tricare and other benefits but not the former spouse.
What if I’m not a 20/20/20 or a 20/20/15 Spouse?
You will not receive military benefits after divorce. It’s a military policy and it could change but until then unfortunately there are no future military benefits.
Will a servicemember’s remarriage affect my 20/20/20 benefits?
No, former spouses become their own sponsors in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) database and future actions, including remarriage, will not impact a former spouse.
Can a remarried servicemember or vet’s new spouse be denied benefits due to the 20/20/20 rule?
No, there are no rules that would prevent this.
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Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News