TRICARE & Divorce

If you meet the criteria under either the 20/20/20 rule or the 20/20/15 rule, you might be eligible to continue receiving TRICARE after a divorce.

By , Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law
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Active duty service members and their immediate family members receive health care coverage under TRICARE. If your former spouse served in the armed forces, you might be able to keep your military health care policy—at least in part—after a divorce if you satisfy the eligibility requirements. This article covers the types of TRICARE insurance available to an ex-spouse after a military divorce.

Am I Eligible for TRICARE After My Divorce?

After divorce, a non-military ex-spouse might be able to receive continuing TRICARE benefits under one of two levels of coverage. Which level of coverage you might be eligible for depends on a number of factors.

Eligibility for Full Coverage Under the 20/20/20 Rule

Under the 20/20/20 rule, the ex-spouse keeps all TRICARE health care benefits if they meet the following strict set of requirements:

  • they were married to the service member (sometimes referred to as the "sponsor") for at least 20 years
  • the service member served in the armed forces for at least 20 years, and
  • the marriage and the period of service overlapped (occurred at the same time) for at least 20 years.

A former spouse who fulfills all three prongs of the 20/20/20 rule is eligible to hang on to the full TRICARE package, retain access to the military Post Exchange (PX) and keep base and commissary privileges. A qualifying ex-spouse receives comprehensive TRICARE benefits through age 65, which is the age most people first become eligible for Medicare benefits.

Calculating the period of overlapping marriage and service requirements can be a source of confusion for some people. The critical dates for evaluating the three sets of 20-year requirements are the:

  • date of the marriage
  • start and end dates of the sponsor's service, and
  • date the divorce was finalized (usually the date on your divorce decree).

The years of marriage need not be consecutive. If the parties were legally separated during the marriage and later reconciled, the former spouse can still qualify as long as the total years of marriage add up to 20.

Eligibility for Partial Coverage Under the 20/20/15 Rule

If you don't meet the eligibility criteria of the 20/20/20 rule, you might still qualify to receive TRICARE health benefits for one year after the divorce if:

  • you were married to the service member for at least 20 years
  • the service member served in the armed forces for at least 20 years, and
  • the marriage and the period of service overlapped for at least 15 years.

Former spouses who meet 20/20/15 guidelines (but not the 20/20/20 guidelines) do not receive PX access or base and commissary privileges.

How to Register for TRICARE After Divorce

To secure your separate coverage, you need to bring the following documents to your local ID card office:

  • your marriage certificate
  • your divorce decree, and
  • proof of your former spouse's service (DD Form 214 or Statement of Service from the applicable Service Personnel Component).

It's best to call first to make an appointment and confirm what documents that you'll need to bring.

As a former spouse, you'll establish your TRICARE coverage and health care information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS), but it will be under your own Social Security Number (SSN) rather than your former spouse's. You will also make doctor's appointments and file health insurance claims under your own SSN.

Events That Trigger Loss of TRICARE Benefits After Divorce

Post-divorce TRICARE benefits will end if you fail to meet the eligibility requirements. Also, you will lose the benefits if you:

  • remarry, or
  • enroll in an employer-sponsored health insurance plan.

Note that if there's a determination that you continued receiving TRICARE benefits after you lost eligibility, you might be responsible for refunding the cost of the coverage and benefits you received after losing eligibility.

Your Options If You Don't Qualify for TRICARE Coverage After Divorce

If you don't qualify for coverage under either the 20/20/20 rule or the 20/20/15 rule, you'll be eligible for TRICARE benefits until the divorce is final.

Once your divorce is final, you have a few options, including:

  • Obtaining temporary transitional coverage. You can apply for temporary transitional coverage through the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). CHCBP acts as a bridge between military and civilian health care insurance to avoid any gaps in coverage. Health care insurance through CHCBP isn't free, but it provides former spouses with TRICARE benefits for up to 36 months after TRICARE eligibility ends. The program includes benefits similar to those available under TRICARE Select. If you want to enroll in CHCBP, you must apply within 60 days from the date of divorce. CHCBP coverage is not available to former spouses of individuals who served in NATO or Partners for Peace.
  • Purchasing coverage on your own. You can search the Health Insurance Marketplace for a health plan that meets your needs, or work with a private health insurance broker to help you find the best plan for your situation. Also, consider checking to see if you're eligible for Medicaid in your state.
  • Receiving coverage through an employer, school, or university. Check with your employer to see if you can opt into any employer-provided insurance plan. Alternatively, you might be able to obtain insurance coverage through a school or university if you're in the process of continuing your education.

Am I Eligible for TRICARE After a Legal Separation?

If you and your sponsor spouse are living apart or are legally separated, you are still covered by TRICARE. (Note, though, that legal separation is not available in all states.) That's because neither of these arrangements legally end your marriage—as long as you are legally married, the dependent spouse is still eligible for TRICARE. In fact, military spouses might choose to legally separate instead of divorce in order to keep the dependent spouse's TRICARE coverage.

TRICARE is just one of many potential military benefits that a former military spouse might be eligible for. If you're a military spouse who's thinking about divorce or legal separation, consider discussing your situation with a lawyer who's knowledgeable about divorce and military benefits.

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