You’ve been married a long time – at least 20 years – and your partner is in the military. How do you know if you qualify as one of the elusive 20/20/20 spouses? Goodness knows you can’t ask your husband, a JAG attorney, or really anyone associated with the military!
What is a 20/20/20 spouse?
When we talk about a 20/20/20 spouse we are looking for three things: (1) the marriage lasted AT LEAST 20 years, (2) the spouse was active duty in the military for AT LEAST 20 years, and (3) AT LEAST 20 of those years overlapped.
In the case of a 20/20/20 spouse, we’re looking at the DATE OF DIVORCE, not the date of separation. In some cases, parties who are close to 20/20/20 status will separate and wait to finalize the divorce until the spouse qualifies as a 20/20/20 spouse. In these cases, that’s usually a specific term that is included in the separation agreement.
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
Annie married Hank in 2000. Hank joined the Navy in 2001. Annie and Hank divorced in 2023, and Hank had not yet retired. In this example, the parties were married for 23 years. At the time of their divorce, Hank had been in the military for 22 years. Annie is a 20/20/20 spouse, because their marriage overlapped with Hank’s military service for 22 years.
Elizabeth married George in 2000. George joined the Army in 1990 and retired in 2020, after a full 30 year career. Elizabeth and George finalized their divorce in 2023. George was in the military ten years before his marriage, but the parties went on to be married a full 20 years (23 in total before they divorced) while he was on active duty – assuming, of course, that his date of retirement was after their anniversary, because this example is cutting it close. (19 and ¾ years would NOT qualify – the 20 years need to completely overlap!)
These are both 20/20/20 spouses!
Isla married Paul in 2000. Paul joined the Marines in 1990 and retired in 2010. The parties separated and divorced in 2023. In this case, though the parties were married for more than 20 years, and Paul was in the military for 20 years, there were not 20 years that overlapped.
Despite the length of her marriage – and the length of Paul’s military service – Isla is NOT a 20/20/20 spouse.
Another example? Sure.
Bretta married Tom in 2000, when they were both 18. Tom joined the Army that same year. The parties separated in 2019. The parties had been married for 19 years, and Tom had not retired – Tom planned to, if possible, serve his country for 20+ years before retirement. The parties negotiated a separation agreement where Tom agreed to wait to finalize the divorce until after their anniversary in 2020, at which point Bretta would make the cut for 20/20/20.
Why does it matter if you’re a 20/20/20 spouse?
When it comes to a longer term military marriage, one of the first things I do is try to figure out whether the dates of service align with the dates of marriage to make my client a potential 20/20/20 spouse. If we’re close, we try to either drag our feet or get the husband to agree not to finalize the divorce until after she achieves that 20/20/20 designation.
Well, 20/20/20 comes with a LOT of benefits, including – most importantly – permanent access to TriCare. Yes – you heard right. Permanent healthcare.
Instead of looking at you as an ex military spouse, a 20/20/20 spouse is treated as a retired military member. They keep their health care, their military ID card, and access to the commissary and exchange.
So, yeah, needless to say – it’s kind of a big deal.
I qualify as a 20/20/20 spouse!
That’s great! Yay for you! It’s a big deal, because health care – especially if you’re not a spring chicken, no offense – is a major expense, and one that the court doesn’t really often consider in a divorce. I mean, its theoretically possible that we could look at the cost of an independent health insurance policy and argue to the court that the expense of this should be considered in your spousal support award; assuming, of course, that you’re entitled to receive spousal support in the first place.
But this is easier. Much easier. And probably better coverage, too!
I don’t qualify as a 20/20/20 spouse, even though I was married 20+ years!
Ugh, that’s the worst. I hate when I see marriages of 20+ years where the timing just doesn’t overlap. If you’re not already divorced, is it possible to wait until you do qualify? It’s important to tell your ex that this won’t cost him anything – in fact, on the contrary, by helping to ensure that you receive your health insurance benefits, you won’t have to ask for more in spousal support to offset the difference.
If you don’t qualify, though, there’s nothing I – or any other attorney – can do. This is a military policy, not a Commonwealth of Virginia policy, and there’s no wiggle room. Like I mentioned in the earlier example with Elizabeth and George, you need a FULL 20 years. Nineteen years and 364 days would not qualify. It’s black and white, hard and fast. Elizabeth would qualify as a 20/20/15 spouse, though – which really is not much of a consolation – but you can read more on that here.