Health care benefits are essential for military families. With all of the long-distance moves and other big changes that come with military life, it’s good to know that you’ll still have health care coverage – whether you’re in Huntsville or Helsinki.
But what happens if you and your spouse divorce? Will you and your kids still be able to access these benefits?
TRICARE is essentially the medical insurance program for the military. The program, which is managed by the U.S. Defense Health Agency, provides comprehensive coverage for active military personnel and their dependents, as well as benefits for many military retirees, National Guard and Reserve members, and some former military spouses.
TRICARE covers members’ visits to the doctor, as well as prescriptions and many other benefits, depending on the plan the member selects and where they live.
If you divorce a spouse who is in the military, your ex (referred to by TRICARE as the “sponsor”), and all of their biological or adopted children remain eligible for TRICARE up until they reach a certain age, join active-duty military themselves, or get married.
If you had children from a previous relationship when you entered the marriage, and your former military spouse didn’t adopt the children, then these children will no longer be able to access TRICARE benefits once the divorce is final.
However, you might still be able to access these health care benefits for yourself, depending on the length of your marriage, the amount of time your ex served in the military, and how long those two periods overlapped.
For example, under the 20/20/20 rule, if you and your former spouse were married for at least 20 years, they served in the military for at least 20 years, and at least 20 of these years overlapped, then you get to keep your no-cost TRICARE benefits as long as you remain eligible.
Additionally, if you were married for at least 20 years, your former spouse served in the military for at least 20 years, and at least 15 of these years overlapped, then you’re eligible for full TRICARE coverage for one year after the divorce under the 20/20/15 rule.
Even if you and your ex were married for a shorter amount of time or you don’t meet the other eligibility requirements for no-cost TRICARE coverage, you might still be eligible to purchase temporary coverage through the program.
Similar to COBRA plans, TRICARE’s Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) typically provides up to 36 months of coverage to help former spouses of military members bridge the gap after a divorce. To access CHCBP, you must apply for coverage within 60 days after your divorce.
In order for the former spouse of a military member to access benefits, they must meet several criteria and submit a range of documentation. For most benefits, the military member will have to update the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) to indicate they are now divorced.
Once they do this, you will be listed in the system under your own Department of Defense benefits number or your own Social Security number. To qualify for TRICARE as a former spouse, you’ll need to present your marriage certificate and divorce decree, along with a Statement of Service or DD Form 214, to prove your ex’s military service.
However, even if you initially qualify for TRICARE, you will lose these benefits if you remarry.
Beyond health care, there are several other military benefits that are important to keep in mind during a divorce. For one, spouses who meet the 20/20/20 rule can typically keep their military ID card and access privileges for base services like the commissary and the exchange, unless they remarry.
Additionally, military members can contribute to a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) during their time in service, which is a retirement plan similar to a 401(k) or IRA. Depending on the current balance of the TSP account, this can be an incredibly valuable asset for spouses to pursue in the midst of a divorce.
Similarly, you can claim the right to a share of your ex’s military pension. If you were married for at least 10 years in a period that overlapped with your spouse’s active-duty service for at least 10 years (known as the 10-10 rule), then the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) will usually pay your portion of the pension directly to you.
Even spouses who were married for a shorter time can claim part of their ex’s pension. While DFAS will not pay you directly if you don’t meet the 10-10 rule, a judge can still order the division of this asset in your divorce decree.
No matter the length of your marriage, pension payments will stop when the military retiree dies, unless they buy a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). SBP helps guarantee that the beneficiary will continue to get a certain amount of pension payments.
The service member can only designate a single adult beneficiary for SBP. That’s why it’s critical to address SBP at the time of the divorce and to ask the judge to order “former spouse coverage” for SBP to ensure you can access this benefit.
Another benefit for military members is payment from the VA for a disability arising from military service. While federal law prohibits courts from dividing VA disability benefits in a divorce, courts still include these payments when calculating the overall value of the service member’s assets. This means that if the court orders them to pay alimony or child support, some of this money might end up coming from their disability benefits.
Military benefits are confusing even while you’re still married and even more so after a divorce. However, you don’t have to sort through this confusing and overwhelming situation on your own.
If you are considering filing for divorce, contact New Beginnings Family Law right away. Our skilled Huntsville military family lawyers can give you the tools to make the best choices for your family and fight to get you the full benefits you deserve.
Contact New Beginnings Family Law today or reach us online for a consultation.
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