What Rights Do Military Spouses Have in a Divorce?
The process of divorcing a military service member differs in some ways than the process of divorce between two civilians. Usually, military divorces tend to be more complex, particularly if the divorce takes place at a U.S. military base overseas. It’s important for civilians who are going through a military divorce to understand the unique rights they may be afforded as the former spouse of a service member and to get legal help securing those rights right away.
If you are the spouse of a service member involved in a divorce, you may have the right to:
Commissary, Exchange & Healthcare Benefits
You may be eligible to receive commissary, exchange, and healthcare benefits under the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Program if you remain unmarried after your divorce and meet 20/20/20 criteria:
- 20 — Service member must have completed 20 years or more of creditable military service
- 20 — You were married to the service member for 20 or more years
- 20 — There was at least a 20-year overlap where you and the service member were married during their active service
If you meet these criteria, you may be able to continue to shop at the military grocery store (commissary), the exchange (department store), and visit on-base doctors. This can be a significant benefit for military spouses who want to stay in the area or need to in order to meet the conditions of the divorce decree. For example, retaining commissary and exchange benefits can provide discount shopping to spouses who share custody with service members on base.
TRICARE medical coverage provides more robust healthcare benefits than those offered under the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Program. A former military spouse may only be eligible for TRICARE if they meet 20/20/15 criteria. If you are eligible for TRICARE, you typically lose commissary and exchange benefits.
Unfortunately, if your marriage does not meet at least the 20/20/20 criteria, you will not be considered eligible for the above benefits. You must meet all three of either the 20/20/20 or the 20/20/15 criteria to retain access to the commissary and exchange or receive TRICARE coverage.
Free Legal Assistance
Spouses of service members have access to free legal help through their installation legal assistance office. Service members also have the same benefits, which includes but are not limited to services like divorce mediation, the provision of separate lawyers for you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse, and notary public services.
Help with Relocation Costs
If you are divorcing a service member stationed away from your home, the military may provide financial aid to relocate you from the base to a place of your choosing. The military should cover all travel-related expenses for you and any children you have, including flights, meals, and accommodations until you reach your home destination.
Alimony and Child Support
Couples will need to reach an agreement on spousal support or alimony, regardless of whether they are in the military. In military divorces, however, the service member is often the higher-earning spouse and is required to make alimony payments in some form after the divorce. If you share children with your ex-spouse, you may also be entitled to receive child support if you become the primary custodian of the children. This too is often the case in military divorces when service members who can be stationed anywhere are unable to provide a stable home environment.
You do not need to meet the 20/20/20 rule to obtain access to free legal services, relocation assistance, spousal support, or child support. These benefits are available to military spouses regardless of the length of their service or your marriage.
When to Contact an Experienced Long Island Divorce Lawyer
If you are married to a U.S. military service member and are considering your divorce options or your service member spouse has had you served with divorce papers, you need someone on your side who can advocate for your rights. At Hornberger Verbitsky, P.C., we have extensive experience helping military families get divorced as quickly and painlessly as possible. We understand the key differences between military and civilian divorces and can represent your best interests at each stage of your divorce.
Contact us today to learn more or to book your free initial consultation by calling 631-923-1910.
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