One’s participation in the US military affords them access to some of the best job benefits in the country. Additionally, their spouses and children generally have access to these benefits as well. They can include retirement pay, medical benefits through TRICARE, and access to military exchanges and commissaries.
However, when a couple in which one spouse is a member of the military seeks to get a divorce, these benefits can raise some unique and complex questions. Generally, a divorce settlement, and particularly any court-mandated financial support, is meant to ensure that the divorcing parties will be able to maintain the lifestyle and quality of life they have grown accustomed to.
Since a non-military spouse will grow accustomed to having access to certain benefits throughout the duration of a marriage to a military spouse, there are many situations where the non-military spouse will be entitled to military benefits in the wake of a divorce. However, there are specific rules governing an ex-spouse’s access to military benefits.
The State of Alabama dictates that, in order for one spouse to collect financial support from the other spouse’s retirement, whether military or otherwise, then they must have been married for a minimum of ten years prior to filing for divorce. As long as this requirement is fulfilled, one spouse may be granted a portion of the other’s military retirement benefits.
A popular misconception is that the ten years of marriage must have overlapped with ten years of military service. The ten-year overlap distinction only affects where the retirement money that is granted to the non-military spouse comes from. If the marriage overlapped ten years of military service, then the non-military spouse’s portion of the military retirement benefit will come from the Defense Financing and Accounting Services (DFAS). If there was not a ten-year overlap with military service, the non-military spouse’s portion of the military retirement benefit will come directly from his or her ex-spouse.
In order for a non-military spouse to continue to have access to their ex’s military medical benefits and access to military commissaries and exchanges following a divorce, a more stringent requirement must be fulfilled known as the 20/20/20 rule.
For full access to these military benefits, the couple must have been married for a minimum of 20 years at the time of dissolution, the military spouse must have served a minimum of 20 years in the military, and the marriage must have overlapped the military service for a minimum of 20 years.
A non-military spouse who does not qualify for full benefits based on these criteria could be eligible for one year of transitional military benefits for medical care if they fulfill the requirements of the 20/20/15 rule. The criteria for this rule are the same as the 20/20/20 rule, except that the overlap of marriage and military service years need only be 15 years rather than 20.
Please keep in mind that every divorce situation is unique, and military divorces can be especially complex. If you are facing a divorce, you should always consult with a knowledgeable military divorce attorney who can help you understand the benefits you are entitled to and work to ensure you receive a fair settlement. Whether you are in the military or married to a service member, if a divorce is possible or imminent, please contact New Beginnings Family Law today.
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