Although the U.S. military generally views divorce as a civil matter that falls under jurisdiction of state family court, special concerns do arise when one or both spouses is military-affiliated. Federal rules govern certain aspects of the split, including the division of retirement pay.
If you or your spouse is in the military and you are facing a separation, understanding what to expect during the divorce process may help ease this challenging life transition.
Spousal and child support
During separation and divorce, the service member must continue to support his or her spouse and children if applicable. Either you and your spouse will agree on an amount, or the court will order an amount based on guidelines established by the specific branch of the service. The unit commander enforces family support orders.
Medical insurance and benefits
If one spouse is not in the military, he or she will retain a military ID card throughout the separation period. The non-military individual can use this card to access medical care through the military family insurance policy. After the court finalizes the divorce, the non-military spouse will be eligible for the Department of Defense Continued Health Care Benefit Program for 36 months, which provides similar coverage as TRICARE.
Some spouses are eligible for ongoing health benefits under so-called 20/20/20 protection. This applies when the marriage lasted at least 20 years, the military member served for at least 20 years and 20 years or more of the marriage overlapped with the service period. When the overlapping period is 15 years or more, the ex-spouse can receive benefits for a year after the divorce.
An eligible former spouse may receive up to 50% of the military member’s retirement pay. Although federal law requires state courts to treat military pensions as property in a divorce, the actual division of this property depends on state law.
When the spouse meets the 20/20/20 guidelines above, the Department of Defense pays the court-ordered amount directly. In other cases, the military spouse is responsible for these payments.