The former spouse of a member of the military does not forfeit her portion of military retirement pay should he remarry – instead, the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act requires that, if she begins to receive benefits under the Survivor Benefit Plan upon her former spouse's death, she will lose those benefits if she remarries before reaching his 55th birthday.
Former Spouse Protection Law
Under the USFSPA, a former spouse of a military member is eligible to request a portion of her former spouse's retirement benefits provided the marriage met certain requirements. The military member must have served a minimum of 20 creditable years of service in the military; the marriage overlapped the military service by at least 20 years; the marriage lasted for a minimum of 20 years. These former spouses are able to claim a portion of the retirement benefits and are entitled to Tricare health care benefits and full base exchange and commissary privileges.
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The former spouse who does not meet the 20/20/20 rule, but whose marriage overlapped military service by 15 years is entitled to receive full military medical benefits for up to one year after the divorce is finalized. She may purchase a DOD-negotiated conversion health insurance policy. To remain eligible for full coverage, she cannot remarry or participate in a health coverage plan offered by her employer.
Remarriage and Retirement Benefits
If a former military spouse remarries, she does not lose her portion of the retirement benefits upon remarrying. Under divorce law, the retirement benefits are regarded as a "split of marital property," which should be covered by the divorce paperwork. If her former spouse dies and she was covered under the Survivor Benefit Plan under the "former spouse" plan, she would lose her benefits if she were to remarry before reaching the age of 55; should that marriage end in divorce or death, the SBP benefits resume.
Rationale for Retirement Benefits to Former Spouse
The USFSPA was enacted because military spouses face unusual difficulties in establishing and maintaining a career separate from their military member spouses; because they are required to undergo permanent change of station moves as often as every two years, building a history with one employer is difficult. Military spouses also lose out on the ability to accrue funds in their own retirement accounts. Should the couple decide to divorce, the non-military spouse can be left with little, if any, income because she has moved with her military spouse from one duty station to another. Her ability to remain current in her career field, let alone maintain her professional skills, is negatively impacted by the moves required by the military. Another consideration is that the former spouse helped her military spouse with his career -- caring for the children and home, participating in unit functions and representing her spouse at dinner gatherings, formal events and spouses' unit events. If her spouse is deployed to a war zone, she is solely responsible for the home and children.
Former Spouse's Eligibility
The former military spouse is not automatically eligible for retirement benefits, survivor benefits, health coverage, commissary or post exchange benefits. The USFSPA directs individual states to treat military retirement pay in the same way as they treat civilian pension plans. This allows military retirement pay to be divided as property settlement. Under the requirements of the USFSPA, the former spouse is eligible when she was married to the military member for at least 10 years, during which time the member was in the military for at least 10 creditable years.