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20/20/20 Former Spouse Rule

Military service has certain benefits. The most important benefit for most service members is likely the opportunity to retire and receive a military retirement. In most cases, a service member is eligible for retirement after twenty years of service. 


Other benefits are also available to servicemembers and their spouses upon the service member's retirement. Medical coverage through Tricare, base privileges, access to the military exchange and commissary privileges are just a few of the benefits. 


But what happens to these privileges if the service member divorces. The service member gives up nothing. After all, the service member has served for twenty or more years. What about the spouse of the service member. Hasn’t the spouse contributed to the service member's life? The spouse has often stayed behind and raised children while the service member was serving. The spouse has been uprooted every few years as the servicemember is moved from duty station to duty station. Spouses of service members are entitled to the same benefits as the servicemember, that is, as long as they remain married. But what about after divorce. Should the spouse who has sacrificed all the years of the marriage now have to give up those benefits? 

Continued Benefits for Former Spouses of Military Service members 

Fortunately, Congress has seen fit to pass laws aimed at protecting the benefits of the spouses of service members. One such law is often referred to as the 20/20/20 rule. The 20/20/20 rule provides that the divorced spouse of a retired service member is entitled to receive the same benefits of non-divorced spouses of retired service members, so long as certain requirements are met. 


First, the spouse must have been married to the service member for a period of at least twenty years. Second, the service member must have served for at least twenty years. Third, the marriage must have overlapped the service for at least twenty years. 


For example, if the parties got married in 1980 and the husband, unable to find a job, joined the military in 1982, stayed married and served until his retirement in 2002, the wife would have met the requirements of the 20/20/20 rule. Thereafter, should the parties divorce, the wife would be entitled to all the benefits she would have enjoyed had they remained married. 


If the parties in the previous example lived together until 1983 when the husband finished basic training, then got married and husband retired in 2002, the wife would not have met the 20/20/20 rule requirements and would not be entitled to continued benefits, regardless of when the divorce occurred. Just as with the 10/10 rule, the period of time is measured from the date of the marriage until the date of the divorce, not the date of separation. 

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Certain Exceptions to the 20/20/20 Rule 

There are exceptions to the privileges available after having met the requirements of the 20/20/20 rule. If the divorced spouse is covered by an employer sponsored health insurance plan, she will no longer be eligible for Tricare. Additionally, if the former spouse remarries, then the medical coverage through Tricare as well as the base privileges, access to the military exchange and commissary privileges will be suspended. If, however, that marriage should end for any reason, the base privileges, access to the military exchange and commissary privileges, but not medical coverage through Tricare, can be reinstated.

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