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Health Care Options for Former Military Spouses

A military spouse is entitled to varying degrees of continuing healthcare coverage, depending on whether they meet certain criteria.

If a former spouse was married to a servicemember or former servicemember for at least 20 years during which the service member performed at least 20 years of creditable service (also called "20/20/20" spouses, which refers to 20 years of creditable service, 20 years of marriage, and 20 years of overlap), then the former spouse is entitled to full military medical care, including TRICARE, if he or she is not enrolled in an employer-sponsored health plan. This coverage is not available if the former spouse remarries. The former spouse is also entitled to continued commissary privileges.

If the former spouse were married to a servicemember or former servicemember for at least 20 years during which the servicemember performed at least 15 years of creditable service (also called "20/20/15" spouse, for 20 years of service, 20 years of marriage, and 15 years of overlap), and the former spouse is not enrolled in an employer-sponsored health plan, then the length of time that the former spouse is entitled to full military health care, including TRICARE, depends on the date of the divorce.  This coverage is not available if the former spouse remarries.

These are statutory entitlements; they belong to the nonmilitary spouse if he or she meets the requirements of federal law.  They are not terms that may be given or with held by the servicemember, and thus should not be part of the "give and take" of alimony negotiations.

TIP: The 20 year requirement is not determined by the date of filing but by the date the final judgment or decree is entered.  In some cases, it may be advisable for the nonmilitary spouse to drag his or her feet and delay the entry of a divorce judgment to extend the marriage to a full 20 years.  Ordinarily, the servicemember should want to extend the marriage as well, since it may significantly reduce the former spouse's need for alimony.

If the former spouse does not qualify for continuing coverage under either of the above mentioned options, he or she may be eligible under Continued Health Care Program ("CHCBP"), if he or she meets the following conditions:

  • must be entitled to a share of the service member's pension or Survivor Benefit Plan coverage;
  • may not be remarried if below age 55;
  • must pay quarterly advance premiums; and 
  • must make an election within 60 days after their eligibility for TRICARE expires.

So long as coverage was previously available to the former spouse, there is no length of marriage or active duty service requirement.  This program provides guaranteed coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

The literature is unclear as to whether coverage through CHCBP continues after the death of the servicemember or retiree.  Since the spouse or former spouse is no longer receiving or entitled to receive a portion of the military retired pay when the servicemember/retiree dies, the CHCBP coverage probably stops at this point if there is no Survivor Benefit Plan for the spouse.  To be on the safe side, the former nonmilitary spouse should be sure that Survivor Benefit Plan is included in the settlement agreement.

If you have questions regarding military divorce, contact an attorney experienced in military divorce.

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Law Offices of Renee Lazar
4308 Thompson Farm
Bedford, MA 01730
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