Know Your Former Spouse Benefits

Know Your Former Spouse Benefits
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A variety of benefits are available to former spouses of servicemembers: TRICARE; access to exchanges, bases, and MWR facilities; retired pay; Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) pay; and Social Security. Here’s what you need to know about qualifications for these benefits.

 

20/20/20 Rule and Service Benefits

For a former spouse to get service benefits, the following must be true:

  • The spouse had been married for 20 years or more to the servicemember,
  • The servicemember served at least 20 years, and
  • The marriage and the military service overlapped by at least 20 years.

 

If so, a former spouse can remain eligible for TRICARE. Two things will disqualify a former spouse from TRICARE:

  1. The former spouse is covered by an employer health plan
  2. The former spouse remarries.

 

Once TRICARE is lost for these reasons, it is permanently lost.

 

An ID card allows the former spouse access to bases, which grants them access to exchanges, commissaries, and MWR facilities.

 

[RELATED: DoD: No Further Extensions Planned for Expired ID Cards]

 

Retired Pay

Retired pay of the service retiree can be split by the divorce court between the servicemember and the former spouse.

 

The marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, and the service time and marriage must have overlapped by at least 10 years. If these conditions are met, a divorce court can divide the retired pay between the parties.

 

[FOR PREMIUM AND LIFE MEMBERS: MOAA's Former Spouse Benefits Guide (Digital Download)]  

 

The amount of military retired pay considered as divisible property is directly linked to the member’s pay grade and years of service at the time of the divorce and then adjusted by COLAs for each year since that date. In other words, just because the service continued beyond the cessation of the marriage, those subsequent years’ contribution to final retired pay are not to be considered divisible property between the servicemember and former spouse.

 

Remarriage of the former spouse does not stop the payments if the court order did not stipulate a remarriage feature. Retired pay reverts to the retiree when an amended court order states such or after the death of the former spouse. Retired pay for all parties stops at the death of the retiree.

 

SBP

SBP is DoD’s version of a corporate pension protection plan. Upon the death of a service retiree receiving retired pay, a spouse can receive up to 55% of the retiree’s full gross retired pay amount as a survivor benefit for life with COLAs.

 

SBP has only one beneficiary, typically a spouse. A divorce court can rule that the SBP beneficiary be changed to a former spouse. If so, the retiree’s SBP beneficiary will be changed to the former spouse by the service pay agency upon notification of the divorce decision.

 

Once awarded to a former spouse, a retiree cannot change the beneficiary without:

  1. an amended court order releasing the beneficiary status back to the retiree,
  2. the former spouse voluntarily releasing the beneficiary status back to the retiree with amended court order, or
  3. the former spouse’s death.

 

Social Security

A former spouse can collect Social Security spousal retirement benefits from an ex-spouse. They must have been married at least 10 years.

 

The spousal benefit amount can be up to 50% of an ex-spouse’s Full Retirement Age (FRA) amount. The former spouse must be at their FRA at the time of application to get the 50% amount. Any age less than the FRA of the former spouse will receive less than the 50%.

 

Former spouses born in 1954 and later must apply for their combined personal Social Security and the spousal benefit at the same time. They will be paid the greater benefit amount — not both.

 

[RELATED: Get Your Financial House in Order Thanks to This MOAA Publication]

 

Former spouses born in 1953 or earlier can claim a spousal benefit alone, thus allowing a delay in collecting their own personal benefit until age 70. The personal retirement benefit amount increases up to age 70.

 

The former spouse benefit has no impact on the ex-spouse benefit or the ex-spouse’s current spouse benefit.

 

Former spouses can also be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits from an ex-spouse. A former spouse survivor benefit has no impact on the benefit to the current spouse of the ex-spouse.

 

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About the Author

Lt. Col. Shane Ostrom, USAF (Ret), CFP®
Lt. Col. Shane Ostrom, USAF (Ret), CFP®

Ostrom retired from the Air Force in 2000 and joined the MOAA team in 2006. His responsibilities include researching and answering member inquiries regarding military benefits, health care, survivor issues, and financial concerns.