Checklist of Military Spouse Benefits after Divorce

Woman sitting in field holding U.S. Flag

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.

Military Retirement.

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

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.

Award-Winning Family Law Attorney In Colorado Springs

U.S. News & World Report calls Graham.Law one of the Best Law Firms in America, and our managing partner is a Colorado Super Lawyer. Our family law attorneys have years of experience helping clients navigate the Colorado legal system. We know Colorado divorce & family law inside and out, from complex multi-million dollar property or child custody cases to basic child support modifications.

For more information about our top-rated El Paso County family law firm, contact us by filling out the form on the right or calling us at (719) 630-1123 to set up a free consult, or click on:

Colorado Family Law. Period.

Testimonials

  • Excellent discussion; fully answered all my questions with examples I could clearly understand

    Jane Rohr Avatar
    Jane Rohr
    3/26/2020
  • Carl Graham is by far the best divorce attorney I have used and would highly recommend him to anyone who is looking for an ethical, knowledgable, fair attorney. My case was not your normal circumstanc... read more

    Gary Oldguy Avatar
    Gary Oldguy
    3/17/2020
  • As a former military spouse trying to collect my share of my ex's military retirement from California when the divorce decree and all the supporting documents were filed in Colorado i was apprehensive... read more

    Janine Pandher Avatar
    Janine Pandher
    3/01/2020
  • Where do I begin? Well AFTER have a consultation with another attorney ( who made me feel as though i was undeserving of his expertise) I was extremely apprehensive when coming to Graham Law. This was... read more

    Chris Whitfield Avatar
    Chris Whitfield
    2/07/2020
  • Mr. Carl Graham, Cindi (his paralegal), and the rest of his office staff helped us with a military divorce. Mr. Graham is very knowledgeable about military ways and processes. I appreciated the fact... read more

    Shelle Dier Avatar
    Shelle Dier
    1/08/2020
  • If you are searching for a divorce lawyer, first I would like to say I’m sorry you are going through this. It isn’t and easy road. I know sometimes things just don’t work out to save your marriage. Ho... read more

    Trevor Lisby Avatar
    Trevor Lisby
    11/26/2019
  • If you are searching for a divorce lawyer, first I would like to say I’m sorry you are going through this. It isn’t and easy road. I know sometimes things just don’t work out to save your marriage. Ho... read more

    Trevor Lisby Avatar
    Trevor Lisby
    10/30/2019
  • I called Graham law firm to schedule a consultation and spoke with Corinna. When beginning your search for information with any family matters there are many questions and a sense of anxiety of the u... read more

    Kathlena Williams Avatar
    Kathlena Williams
    8/26/2019
  • I was divorced in CO but moved to TX & had issues with my divorce decree from a previous attorney- after referrals from several other firms in CO regarding the best military law firm I went with Graha... read more

    Sarah DeLorean Avatar
    Sarah DeLorean
    8/26/2019
  • Very helpful initial meeting.

    Steven Babbitt Avatar
    Steven Babbitt
    6/26/2019
  • Carl and his team are awesome and super easy to work with. His knowledge is tremendous and he quickly handled my case despite me being across the country. I would do business with his team again and... read more

    Michael Brooks Avatar
    Michael Brooks
    5/26/2019
  • I was impressed by Graham Law in general but most impressed with Brian Boney. Brian is an excellent family law attorney. Attentive, detail-oriented, and hard-working, Brian surpassed my expectations f... read more

    Robert Weeks Avatar
    Robert Weeks
    5/26/2019
  • Mr. Grahm was professional, knowledgable and very prepared. He was also kind and understanding. He knew his military in's and outs. Because of this is got exactly what I was asking for... a swift a... read more

    MAMCO STAFF Avatar
    MAMCO STAFF
    4/26/2019
  • I had the unpleasant task of taking my ex back to court. Carl was the person for the job. His attention to detail and professionalism got me the result I needed. Sincere thanks to Carl and his great s... read more

    Lisa Bruinsma Avatar
    Lisa Bruinsma
    4/26/2019
  • This firm is quite wonderful....very family and military oriented. Compassionate and patient, very understanding and will go to bat for you!!!!! Give them a call!!!!!

    Teresa Wilkie Avatar
    Teresa Wilkie
    4/26/2019
  • Brian did an amazing job helping me with a personal matter! Its not the first time I ask Brian for help, and every time he exceeds my expectations! Thank you for your kindness, understanding and suppo... read more

    Iryna Volynets Avatar
    Iryna Volynets
    4/26/2019
  • Divorce is never easy, but Carl and his warm team helped me navigate this very difficult time. This was a military divorce, so Carl's expertise helped me understand exactly what my options were as a f... read more

    Kara Longmire Avatar
    Kara Longmire
    4/26/2019
  • I have had two occasions that I have needed Carl Graham's assistance with child support issues and both times Mr. Graham and his team were amazing. Mr. Graham is straight forward and honest. I highly ... read more

    Jason Ragland Avatar
    Jason Ragland
    4/26/2019
  • Can't thank the team enough.

    Kevin Czarnecki Avatar
    Kevin Czarnecki
    4/26/2019
  • Very professional and extremely supportive throughout my needs.

    Doyle McNeil Avatar
    Doyle McNeil
    4/26/2019

Contact