Military Retirement Divorce 10/10 Rule


Let’s face it – most divorces are messy. Once you throw potential military retirement benefits into the mix, things can get a whole lot messier.

Retirement benefits after you exit the military can be hefty. It’s a huge benefit you’ll receive for serving your contrary with honor and pride and they are benefits you should thoroughly enjoy. Similarly, spouses of military service members are also entitled to the incredible benefits provided by the military, including retirement benefits, for all their sacrifices made during their partners’ active duty and deployments.

In an effort to protect everyone involved, there is what’s called the 10/10 rule when it comes to military couples getting a divorce. Here, we’ll do our best to clarify this rule.

There is a lot of misconception when it comes to the military divorce 10/10 rule. Before we talk about what this retirement and divorce rule is, it’s important to explain what it is not.

The military retirement divorce 10/10 rule does not:

  • Require a military couple to be married for ten years before the spouse has a right to any portion of the service member’s military retirement benefits.
  • Require a military couple to be married for ten years during active duty service before the spouse has a right to any portion of the service member’s military retirement benefits.
  • Require the service member to serve ten consecutive years in the military before their spouse has a right to any portion of their military retirement benefits.

As you can see, these assumptions of what the military retirement divorce 10/10 rule revolves around a few key terms: the number ten, serving in the military, retirement benefits, and marriage. But how do they all go together?

Understanding the 10/10 Rule

So, if we’ve figured out what the military retirement divorce 10/10 is not, then – what is it? Here’s what the rule actually states.

The 10/10 rule means that a former spouse can receive their court-ordered portion of the split military retirement benefits paid directly to them from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service if the marriage lasted 10 years or more during which the service member completed at least 10 years of military duty that is creditable toward their military retirement benefits.

So, the rule really has nothing to do with how much an ex-spouse will be paid in retirement benefits and it isn’t a rule about if said spouse will receive funds at all. It simply is a rule that guarantees direct deposit for any retirement funds owed to the former spouse as rule by the court during the divorce.

Keep in mind that depending on the state in which you file for divorce, the amount of time you’ve been married may be judged based on different criteria and could affect whether or not you meet the requirements of the 10/10 rule.

In fact, confusion surrounding the 10/10 military retirement divorce rule could make it seem like if you’re in the military and get married, there’s a waiting period before your spouse has access to your benefits. This isn’t the case at all.

It’s up to the court to decide how much of your retirement benefits your ex-spouse is entitled to during the divorce and this misconception can be dangerous for those entering a contract marriage thinking their retirement money is safe if you’re only married for a year or two.

For this reason, it’s imperative to understand military retirement divorce as a whole and what it means to get divorced as a military couple.

Military Retirement Divorce

Procedurally and legally, the process of getting divorced is no different to average civilians getting divorced. There are some other differences though.

One difference is that military personnel and veterans often have lucrative benefits from their time in the service – from education benefits to retirement funds. Also, if the service member is on active duty, the process can be delayed and take longer than a civilian divorce.

Let’s go back to the military retirement divorce 10/10 rule since it’s somewhat tricky to understand at face value. Using some examples, it might be easier to understand whether or not you’re entitled to direct payments from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service once divorced.

Say a couple was married for 13 years and one spouse served in the military for six of those 13 years. The non-military spouse would not be entitled to direct deposits of their share of military retirement benefits.

On the other hand, using the same couple as an example, if one spouse served in the military for 10 of those 13 years, the non-military spouse would be entitled to direct payments of their portion of the military retirement benefits.

Again, not qualifying for direct payments from the Defense Department does not mean you won’t be getting payments at all. It’s up to the state to determine how the military retirement benefits are divided.

The maximum amount of military retirement benefits an ex-spouse can receive is 50% of the payment and goes into effect after 90 days. If child support is involved, only up to 65% of the disposable retirement pay can be taken.

How Military Retirement Divorce Funds are Split

So, how do the courts divide military pensions between ex-spouses? Is there a specific method of calculation?

There are three different methods used to calculate the percentage of a military pension that a former spouse might receive. The length of the marriage itself will always come into play but it’s becoming a common trend to count points accumulated during the marriage rather than counting the passage of time.

These three methods of calculation include:

  • Net Present Value which is used when a spouse wants an up-front buyout
  • Deferred Distribution which is used when the shares are divided at the time of divorce but distribution is deferred until the service member retires
  • Reserve Jurisdiction is the most common calculation method and is used when the shares are divided at the time of retirement versus at the time of divorce

Specific Military Benefits Affected by Divorce

There are a few more benefits that could be affected by your military divorce including:

The Thrift Savings Plan is similar to a 401K you’d receive in a civilian job. It’s a defined contribution plan meant to provide income for veterans upon retirement. This is the plan that will be divided between two ex-spouses in the event of divorce but the division order differs slightly to the divisions of civilian retirement benefits.

If an ex-spouse was the beneficiary of the Survivor Benefits Plan while married to a military service member, they will no longer be eligible for these benefits after divorce. The Survivor Benefits Plan is mutually-exclusive and it must be addressed in the divorce settlement.

Spouses of military service members qualify for base privileges like commissary access and these privileges depend on what’s called the 20/20/20 rule. After getting a divorce, the non-military ex-spouse will retain base privileges if:

  • You and your former spouse had been married for at least 20 years
  • Your former spouse was in the military for at least 20 years
  • Your marriage overlapped the time in service by at least 20 years

If you pass the 20/20/20 rule you’ll retain your base privileges unless you remarry.

Finally, Tricare eligibility is also affected once you get divorced from a military spouse. Tricare is the health care system provided by the Department of Defense and covers members of the military and their families. After getting divorced, eligibility is also determined by the 20/20/20 rule which features the same stipulates as above.

If you don’t meet these expectations, there are other options for Tricare as a divorcee. Tricare offers transitional coverage if you meet the 20/20/15 which states:

  • You and your former spouse had been married for at least 20 years
  • Your former spouse was in the military for at least 20 years
  • Your marriage overlapped the time in service by at least 15 years

If you pass the 20/20/15 rule, you’ll be eligible for Tricare benefits for up to 12 months after the divorce unless you remarry.

Overall, divorce is tricky and the benefits military service members receive can make a military divorce even trickier at times. These rules are always changing and evolving so make sure you stay on top of your benefits, especially if you’re going through a divorce.

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