U.S. military members and their spouses qualify for a wide range of benefits, including medical coverage, pension, and access to the commissary and exchange on base. Unfortunately, losing these benefits is considered a significant financial blow to non-military spouses experiencing divorce.
If you are the civilian spouse involved in a military divorce, you need to understand your rights. The Uniform Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) establishes the benefits of former spouses of military personnel.
Under the Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, a former spouse (who is not remarried) may receive full healthcare and on-base privileges if he/she meets the “20/20/20 rule”. This means the non-military spouse was married to the member of the military for 20 years or more when the divorce was filed, the military member was in the service for 20 years, and there was an overlap of at least 20 years between service and marriage.
If a non-military spouse does not meet the 20/20/20 rule, they could still be eligible for the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (COBRA) if they meet the 20/20/15 rule (i.e. 15 years of the marriage overlapped with military service). However, he/she does not receive commissary and exchange privileges.
When it comes to short-term marriages, these benefits are not available for non-military spouses. Fortunately, they may still be eligible for retirement pay.
Under USFSPA, state courts are given authority to award non-military spouses a portion of the service member’s pension. To be eligible for this, the marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years, during which the member of the military performed at least 10 years of service that is creditable toward retirement.
No matter if you meet the 20/20/20 rule, non-military spouses may retain their military ID card and continue to have access to medical benefits and on-base privileges.