Alongside the GI Bill, TRICARE is probably one of the best benefits this country has provided for its military men and women. This valuable, comprehensive health coverage provides military members and their families with dental, medical, vision, mental health, and prescription health insurance protection. It is so valuable, many divorcing couples in Virginia worry over keeping Tricare benefits after divorce.
Divorce is a Qualifying Life Event
Divorce is one of the Qualifying Life Events (QLEs) Tricare considers in determining who receives benefits. The military service member is the sponsor; under TRICARE rules, the sponsor has 90 days after the final divorce decree to change the TRICARE plan:
- Sponsor (the military service member) enters updated information about marital status in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) so that the member’s particular plan — TRICARE Prime, TRICARE Select, TRICARE Reserve Select, TRICARE Retired Reserve or TRICARE Young Adult — accurately reflects the member’s current eligibility status
- The sponsor’s adopted and biological children continue to receive TRICARE benefits as before the divorce (until they age out)
- The sponsor’s spouse benefits generally end at 12:01 a.m. on the day of the divorce decree
Two Rules for TRICARE Eligibility for Former Spouses
The QLE of divorce generally ushers the spouse off of TRICARE coverage, but if the spouse (you or your ex-wife) meets certain requirements, TRICARE benefits can continue.
Those requirements start with the former spouse remaining unmarried. The former spouse must register with DEERS using her or his own Social Security Number and name.
Two rules govern TRICARE eligibility for former spouses (male or female):
- If the spouse meets the 20-20-20 Rule, benefits can continue; the 20-20-20 Rule requires:
- The former spouse’s sponsor had at least 20 years of creditable service towards determining retirement pay; and
- The former spouse was married to the same sponsor or service member for at least 20 years; and
- All 20 years of marriage overlap the 20 years of creditable (Active or Reserve) service which counted towards your sponsor’s retirement
You as a former spouse do not get to arbitrarily decide if you meet the criteria; the Service Personnel Component will determine 20-20-20 eligibility. If you as a former spouse meet the 20-20-20 Rule, you receive a new ID card with your own name and your Social Security number listed as the “sponsor Social Security number.” This card will be issued the first time you renew your existing card after the divorce date or annulment effective date.
- The former spouse may not meet the 20-20-20 rule but may meet requirements for the 20-20-15 Rule:
- Your sponsor has at least 20 years of creditable service towards determining retirement pay; and
- You were married to the same sponsor/service member for at least 20 years; and
- 15 of those years overlap the 20 years of creditable (Active or Reserve) service which counted towards your sponsor’s retirement
Under the 20-20-15 Rule, and for divorces on and after September 29, 1988, the former spouse can receive TRICARE benefits for one year from the date of divorce.
You are the Service Member
If you are the service member receiving TRICARE benefits, you will continue to receive them after divorce as long as you remain with the service. Your adopted and biological children will also receive the same benefits.
Your TRICARE benefits are not a negotiating tool. You cannot give away your rights to them. You cannot be browbeaten by your divorcing spouse’s attorney into sacrificing something of value to “preserve” your children’s rights to TRICARE — they and you already have TRICARE and cannot lose it through divorce.
You are the Former Spouse
If the combat boot is on the other foot, and you are the beneficiary of TRICARE coverage because you married a service member, you have to meet one of the two “20” Rules: 20-20-20 or 20-20-15 to keep the benefits, even temporarily.
Clearly, the 20-20-15 Rule greatly limits your benefits (it expires one year after the divorce decree).
For a former spouse under the 20-20-15 Rule facing a ticking clock, you have three events to be wary of:
- If you remarry, you lose TRICARE benefits (unless you marry a military service member)
- If you purchase and are covered by an employer-sponsored health plan, you lose TRICARE benefits
- If you are the former spouse of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or Partners for Peace nation member, you lose TRICARE eligibility
While some military benefits may be subject to negotiation during separation, TRICARE is not one of them. It is beyond the reach of either side in military separation or divorce and cannot be a bargaining chip either to help or hurt you.
The Firm For Men handles hundreds of military men’s family law issues every year. We have experience with all aspects of military divorce, including benefits preservation, retirement income, and more. Contact us today or telephone our Virginia Beach office at (757) 383-9184.