Air Force Divorce 101: Rights and Benefits of Civilian Ex-Spouses

By | October 4, 2016

Divorce can be a confusing and complex ordeal for air force couples. Legally, a service member who is getting a divorce is no different than a civilian, so you have to follow the same procedure as a civilian couple when filing for a divorce. However, there are unique legal issues which may apply as a result of military service. These issues may affect services of process, residency and domicile requirements, division of marital assets, child custody, and division of military pensions.

Though it operates under special rules and regulations, the military is still an employer. Service members of the air force or any other branch of the military and their spouses qualify for a variety of benefits, including healthcare, pension, and use of the base commissary and exchange. We have listed here the most common benefits that an ex-spouse can continue to receive following a divorce.

The Right to File a Divorce 

A service member’s spouse has the right to file for a divorce. However, you must file it in a court which has jurisdiction over you and your spouse. In most cases, you can file for a divorce in any one of these three states: The state where the service member is posted, the state where he/she legally resides, or the state where you reside. You should consult a private lawyer before filing for divorce. However, make sure to hire a lawyer who has handled several military divorce cases similar to yours.

Free Consultation from a Military Legal Assistance Attorney

The spouse of a service member has the right to seek legal help from a legal assistance attorney at the base. You can consult a Judge Advocate General (JAG) from the air force or any other branch or base of the military. Usually, the military attorneys cannot represent you in your divorce, but they can give you legal advice. They can also review and revise your legal documents, write letters for you, and provide a list of private lawyers specializing in military divorce law. Although a legal assistance attorney can give you free consultation, if your military spouse has sought advice from the lawyer already, he/she will not help you due to conflict of interest. In such a case, you can speak with another attorney from the same office or a different base.

Healthcare Benefits

You can continue to receive healthcare benefits, such as the TRICARE healthcare coverage, if you qualify under the 20/20/20 rule. The benefits also include inpatient and out-patient care at a military treatment facility. You will lose the healthcare benefits under this rule if you remarry or enroll in employer-sponsored healthcare coverage.

If you don’t qualify under the 20/20/20 rule, you may be able to receive military medical care for one year under the 20/20/15 rule. After one year of free medical care, you can purchase a conversion health policy approved by the Department of Defense to continue receiving healthcare coverage at a reduced rate with non-military providers.

If you don’t qualify under either rule, you can still receive healthcare benefits under a premium-based healthcare program known as Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). It is a temporary healthcare program which provides coverage for only 36 months. You are required to get alternative coverage before it expires. Compared to private healthcare insurance, the premium for this coverage is much cheaper.

Spousal and Child Support

Each branch of the military, including the air force, has policies requiring service members to support their spouses and children. However, a court will follow the state’s child support guidelines to decide the child support amount. You can speak with a military attorney or a private lawyer to get a clear idea about child support and alimony rules. Usually, the court will provide for the direct payment of child support by garnishment and or wage assignment. You need to submit such order to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).

Military Pension/ Retirement Pay

You will receive a share of your spouse’s military pension directly from the DFAS if you qualify under the 10/10 rule. Contrary to the popular belief, 10/10 rule applies to only the garnishment or direct payment of the retirement pay. Being ineligible for direct payment doesn’t mean you are not entitled to receive a share of the retirement pay. The court may award you a share of the military pension that it thinks is fair. However, in the latter case, the military spouse is responsible for making the monthly payments.

For example, if you were married for fifteen years and your military spouse served for nine of those fifteen years of marriage, you would not be entitled to a direct payment from the DFAS. However, the court may award you a part of the military pension. An ex-spouse can receive a maximum of 50 percent of the total pension income. The court may decide to pay the share of military pension in addition to the child support and alimony. Usually, military pension is not paid to a divorced spouse until the service member retires and starts receiving it.

Base Privileges

If you qualify under the 20/20/20 rule, you will receive all base privileges following a divorce. You will need to obtain a new identification card from the base. However, you are entitled to receive the base privileges as long as you don’t remarry.

Thrift Savings Plan 

The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is much like a 401(k). It is a retirement savings plan. Service members can contribute to the TSP while during their service. The TSP can be divided between the parties following a divorce. You can also exchange it for any other asset. However, you need to speak with your lawyer first because you need to meet specific requirements to divide the plan.

The unique nature of a military divorce procedure requires that you get legal help and advice as soon as possible. The non-military spouses of the service members need to understand the legal issues that affect military divorces. All branches of the military, including the air force, will provide you with free legal consultation. You can also hire a competent private attorney who specializes in handling air force or military divorces.

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