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What does the 20/20/20 rule mean in military divorces?

Some people think that all divorces follow the same guidelines; however, there are often special circumstances that come with specific divorces. One of these is when the divorce involves a person who is serving or has served in the military.

Long-term marriages can qualify the civilian spouse for certain military benefits if they meet specific qualifications. The primary qualifier is informally known as the 20/20/20 rule. This rule means that all of the following requirements are met:

  • The service member was in the military for 20 years or longer with at least 20 years creditable for retirement pay
  • The marriage lasted at least 20 years
  • There is a minimum of a 20-year overlap between the military service and the marriage

When all of those are met, the civilian spouse will be able to receive benefits as long as they remain unmarried. These include access to commissary and exchange programs and coverage for medical benefits.

There are also benefits available for children of divorced or divorcing service members. These will continue after the divorce, even if the children live predominately with the civilian parent, but there are some exceptions. There aren't service term length requirements for children's benefits. The key here is that the children must get military dependent ID cards.

Coverage under Tricare can continue even after the divorce, regardless of how much support the children receive from the service member. Some benefits, such as access to the Morale, Welfare & Recreation programs, are only offered if the service member provides at least 50% of the support for the children.

Military divorce, benefits and retirement pay can all combine into a complex situation. Working with someone who is familiar with military divorces can benefit individuals who are facing this type of situation.

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