Military Benefits: What Happens After a Divorce?

Military spouses determining their military benefits after divorce face a complex process of understanding both civil code and military regulations.  It is best for spouses to familiarize themselves with these matters before getting divorced, if possible, and to seek legal counsel for assistance.

Health Benefits – Unremarried Former Military Spouses – No Length of Time Required

For military spouses who do not qualify above there is the DOD Continued Health Care Benefit (CHCBP) Program.  This is a premium based temporary health care coverage program that can be applied for within 60 days after the loss of military benefits and coverage retained for up to 36 months.

Military Retired Pay

The 1982 Uni­formed Ser­vices For­mer Spouse Pro­tec­tion Act (USFSPA) allows mil­i­tary retirement to be divided as mar­i­tal prop­erty dur­ing a divorce decree.  This does not give the pay to a former spouse but rather permits the courts to treat military retired pay as disposable and state law will determine how it is divided.

Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)

A former spouse can be designated as a Survivor Benefit Plan beneficiary which is typically decided by the divorcing couple or more commonly through a state court of law.  The former spouse must elect for “former spouse coverage” from the appropriate military finance center within 1 year of the divorce.  Remarriage before age 55 terminates SBP unless the second marriage is dissolved through divorce or death.

Health Benefits 20/20/20 Rule

Under the 20/20/20 rule, former spouses are eligible to continue their medical coverage under TRICARE if they following are true:

  • The former spouse did not enroll in an employee sponsored health plan
  • Been married at least 20 years
  • The marriage and the military service overlapped at least 20 years
  • The former spouse has not remarried
  • The Military member has at least 20 years of service

Health Benefits 20/20/15 Rule

If there only 15 years of overlap between the marriage and military service the former spouse may receive up to 1 year of TRICARE coverage.  Remarriage terminates these medical benefits.

Post Exchange and Commissary Benefits

Former spouses that qualify under the 20/20/20 rule will continue to receive Post Exchange and commissary benefits.

Military I.D.

Only former spouses that qualify under the 20/20/20 rule can retain their military I.D.  All other former spouses can no longer use their military ID.  They can still keep it for keepsake purposes are as photo identification.


Any child who is a legal dependent to the service member after divorce will retain full military benefits until age 22 or marriage.

Free Legal Assistance

Going through a divorce is a complex topic and legal representation is often times needed in order to have someone advocate on your behalf.   The military provides free legal assistance in many matters including divorce or even separation.  Unfortunately, Veterans are not eligible for these services.  Most groups that are eligible include active duty, reservists, retirees and military dependents, including military spouses.

Legal assistance offices are available on almost every base, camp, installation or ship.  Check your local military directory to inquire about these services.


All family members retain I.D. privileges, TRICARE, Post Exchange and commissary benefits during a separation.  If the service member is receiving BAH (Basic Allowance Housing) the spouse may be entitled to financial support.

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