How Does Divorce Impact a Spouse’s Military Benefits?

Being married to someone from the Armed Forces comes with plenty of benefits, but unfortunately, not all marriages are meant to last which is the reality many couples have to face. So, what happens to a former military spouse?

Not all former spouses get to retain the benefits they enjoyed when married to someone in the military. The benefits you would receive if you were a military spouse depend on how long you were married to the service member. How do benefits change depending on how long you have been married to someone in the Armed Forces? This article will answer this integral question and more.

divorce in military

Can You Receive Military Benefits After Getting Divorced?

Yes, you can still receive benefits from the military after getting divorced. However, essential factors such as the length of the marriage, the service member’s length of service, and the amount of time both periods were concurrent are considered.

For a former military wife or husband to continue receiving benefits from the military, they must fall into either the 20/20/20 Rule or the 20/20/15 Rule. People under this category enjoy full military benefits even after divorcing their spouse.

To qualify for the 20/20/20 Rule, you must meet three conditions:

  • You must’ve been married to the military member for at least 20 years;
  • Your former spouse must have served in the military for at least 20 creditable service years, and
  • There must have been a minimum of a 20-year overlap between the marriage and the military service.

The second situation is called the 20/20/15 Rule. The service member’s former spouse is entitled to one year of transitional medical benefits. They won’t be given the other benefits they enjoyed when married to a service member.

To qualify for 20/20/15 rule, you must satisfy the following conditions:

  • You must’ve been married to a military member for at least 20 years
  • Your former spouse must have served in the military for at least 20 creditable service years, and
  • There must have been a minimum of a 15-year overlap between the marriage and the military service.

Ex-spouses who do not meet these criteria forfeit all the benefits they were given as soon as the divorce is finalized.

How Military Divorces Differ From Civilian Ones

The divorce process for civilian and military divorces is mostly the same, but there are a few vital exceptions. As with all divorces, state courts are authorized to make legal decisions about family matters like child support, alimony or spousal support, and the division of marital property. State law defines ‘marital property’ and establishes the procedure for dividing property between the former married couple.

A Federal law called the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA) governs the division of disposable retired pay between military members and their former spouses. The USFSPA permits courts to treat military retirement pay like an asset, similar to many civilian retirement accounts.

This law addresses the division of a military pension that meets the state’s definition of marital property. The pension amount that a court may award to a former spouse depends on several factors, including the marriage length, the service member’s rank, and the years served.

However, it should be noted that the USFSPA only addresses military retirement benefits. Other benefits that military personnel and their dependents receive, like VA disability payments, aren’t considered assets in divorce cases, but some state courts may treat some of them as income when calculating alimony or child support.

Another vital federal law is the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) which can impact divorce proceedings if a military member undergoing a divorce is deployed or otherwise unavailable. The involved military service member might be unable to respond to a divorce petition or court order while deployed.

The SCRA prevents the court from holding military personnel in contempt or entering a default judgment again if their duties prevent them from participating in a divorce proceeding or other legal matters.

 The 10/10 Rule in Military Divorces

Once a judge signs a divorce decree that divides one’s military retirement pay, the former spouse will be entitled to a portion of the service member’s payments from the Department of Defense (DOD). The 10/10 Rule determines if the DOD’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) will send payments directly to the former spouse, or if the service member must send the money themselves.

The DFAS will send payments directly to the former spouse if two criteria are met:

  • They’ve been married for at least ten years
  • The military member rendered at least ten years of active duty military service overlapping the marriage

The 20/20/20 Rule

Former spouses that meet the 20/20/20 qualifications criteria as indicated above are entitled to their ex’s military retired pay and many of the other benefits they enjoyed as a military spouse. Some of the most significant benefits they retain include their military ID card, medical benefits through TRICARE, and the use of the commissaries.

As long as that former spouse remains divorced and does not marry another person, they enjoy these benefits. Once they remarry, they’ll have to forfeit all the benefits they were given after the military divorce.

Divorced Military Spouse Benefits

Military Retirement Benefits Post-Divorce

The military pension that a veteran receives is considered a valuable asset. This can also benefit former or current spouses. However, two caveats are involved:

  • The payments won’t commence until the military personnel retires from military and receives retirement.
  • The DFAS will pay the former spouse directly if the spouses have at least ten years of marriage overlapping the military service.

Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)

The military offers its members a Thrift Savings Plan, a defined contribution plan. With the new Blended Retirement System, the TSP now receives the same amount from the military, partially replacing some of the value of traditional military pensions.

The TSP is considered a divisible asset in legal separation or divorce, and a former spouse can roll over their share into a qualifying account.

VA Disability Payments

Even if the military personnel signed a VA waiver to give up some retirement to receive VA disability, disability payments from the Veterans Administration aren’t considered a divisible asset.

Continued Health Care Benefit Program

After divorce, a former spouse is entitled to the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) for three years. As long as that person remains unmarried and was also awarded a share of the military retirement or Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), the former spouse may stay on CHCBP for life. However, this program is expensive, and buying a health policy elsewhere might be more practical.

Post-9/11 GI Bill & Former Spouses

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is considered an extremely valuable military benefit, and the service member can name their (former) spouse as the beneficiary. Divorce doesn’t terminate one’s status as a beneficiary as long as the service member agrees.

Federal law prohibits state courts from dividing the GI Bill as part of a divorce. While some members might permit their former spouses to continue to use these benefits, it’s not required.

BAH for Divorced Spouses

Each military branch requires that the military member pay a separated spouse an amount to live on monthly. However, BAH payments stop upon divorce unless a court order dictates otherwise. At that time, whatever a judge has ordered for spousal and child support becomes the monthly payment.

Divorce Overseas

A divorce filed overseas can be more complicated than if filed with a US state. A US court may not recognize a divorce filed overseas, so it’s best to file for divorce within the country. As a general rule, military divorce laws permit service members and their spouses to file for divorce in:

  • The state where the former spouse lives in
  • The state where the service member is currently stationed
  • The state of the service member’s legal residency

When filing for divorce overseas, you must consider the following:

  • Talk with a divorce lawyer or the military legal assistance office if you own property abroad;
  • Family members and their property can be taken home at the government’s expense before the service member’s tour of duty ends.

Will Retirement Pay Continue Past the Service Member’s Death?

The award for the former spouse won’t continue after the service member’s death unless there is a specific provision in the Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) called the survivor benefit plan (SBP). SBP is a pension for retired members, which provides payment to an elected beneficiary at the retiree’s death.

How Remarrying Impacts Your Military Pension Payouts

If the former military spouse gets married to another person, they will be legally required to forfeit all the benefits they were entitled to.

Why You Should Hire a Military Lawyer

Going through the divorce process can be challenging and expensive. That’s why you should confer with a military divorce lawyer. This legal expert can provide you with legal counsel to get the best arrangement possible. They would know how to deal with divorce proceedings in your best interest.

military benefits for spouse


Divorces are never easy, regardless of whether you’re a service member. If you’re a former spouse trying to maximize your benefits, you should educate yourself on what you’re entitled to. Fortunately, you can get support from a military lawyer or seek advice from other former spouses. Sign up for the SCRACVS to verify the status of an active duty service member today.


What is a divorced military spouse entitled to?

Most military benefits will be forfeited unless the former spouse qualifies for the 20/20/20, 20/20/15, or 10/10 Rules.

Can a former military spouse get military benefits?

It depends on various factors, such as how long they were married, how long the service member rendered creditable service, and years of overlap between the marriage and the military service. Unless the spouse qualifies for the 20/20/20 rule, they must forfeit most benefits.

Can you divorce a military spouse? 

Yes, like civilians, you’re allowed to file for divorce against someone in the military. Most of the divorce proceeding process remains the same.

What is the 10-year Rule for military spouses?

The 10/10 Rule determines if the DOD’s Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) will send payments directly to the former spouse or if the service member must send the money themselves. The military member must have rendered at least ten years of active duty military service overlapping the marriage.

Can my ex-wife get my military pension?

Yes, a former wife may be entitled to a portion of one’s military pension. This is because your military pension is considered a divisible asset.

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