Military IDs for Divorced Spouses and Children

military id

Military service members and their families sacrifice a lot for the nation they love. Serving in the armed forces carries tremendous responsibility and also some well-deserved benefits. Access to those benefits is granted to individuals with a military identification card, including those with a dependent ID.

Service members, of course, have military ID. So do their family members. A military ID allows the holder to enter military bases; enjoy libraries, swimming pools, golf, and other recreation facilities on military installations; shop at commissaries; access childcare; and perhaps most critically, receive healthcare coverage through Tricare.

A military ID confers so many benefits that military spouses are often concerned about losing those benefits in the event of a divorce. Let’s talk about who is eligible for a military dependent ID, and how military divorce affects an ex-spouse’s military benefits.

What Family Members Are Entitled to a Military Dependent ID Card?

Current spouses of military service members are entitled to a military dependent ID card. That includes same-sex spouses of service members who are legally married. While spouses of active-duty service members can get a dependent ID, so can spouses of Reserve or Guard members, and spouses of retired service members. Spouses of reservists who are not on active duty and spouses of retired military members have different colored cards (red and orange, respectively) to distinguish them from dependent ID cards of service members on active duty. Widowed spouses of deceased service members continue to be eligible for a military dependent ID so long as they do not remarry.

Dependent children are also eligible for dependent IDs. A dependent child includes not only biological and adopted children, but stepchildren of the service member as well. In general, “dependent children” are under 21 years of age. However, children between the ages of 21 and 23 who are enrolled in an approved educational institution are also considered dependent children. So are children above the age of 21 who have a disability that makes them unable to support themselves financially.

Military dependent IDs are not valid indefinitely; after four years, the card expires and must be surrendered to the Department of Defense and the military dependent must apply for a new card. A dependent can also reapply for an ID card if they lose their card or it is stolen; however, if the original card is recovered, it must be surrendered if a replacement has been issued. And, of course, an ID card must be surrendered if the holder becomes ineligible for military benefits before the card’s expiration. That sometimes—but not always—happens in divorce.

What Happens to Military Spouse Benefits in Divorce?

A former military spouse’s right to continue to have a military dependent ID card depends on the length of the marriage, the length of the military member’s creditable service, and the overlap between the two. In short, an ex-spouse is entitled to full health care, commissary, and exchange benefits if they meet the “20/20/20 rule:”

  • The service member had at least 20 years of creditable service. (Creditable service is active service that was terminated under honorable conditions.)
  • The spouses were married for at least 20 years.
  • The marriage and the creditable service overlapped for at least 20 years.

An ex-military spouse who does not meet the 20/20/20 rule (not to be confused with the 10/10 rule) retains commissary and exchange privileges while the divorce is pending but loses them when the divorce becomes final.

Under limited circumstances, some spouses may be able to retain medical benefits for a year following the date of divorce. These so-called “transitional” medical benefits are available if the spouse meets the “20/20/15 rule;” 20 or more years of creditable service, 20 or more years of marriage, with 15 years of overlap between them. Transitional benefits may also be available to a spouse who is divorced from an ex-service member whose eligibility for retired pay was terminated due to domestic abuse.

It is important to know that a military service member cannot force a spouse to give up their military dependent ID before the divorce is final. A service member who confiscates their spouse’s ID by force may be charged with larceny.

Do Children Keep Their Military Dependent ID After Their Parents’ Divorce?

Many military service members have minor children or older children who meet the definition of “dependent child.” Dependent children continue to be eligible for a dependent ID card and for benefits and services through their military parent, even if they live with the non-military parent. So in some cases, children may have a dependent ID card even if their parent does not.

What to Do if You are Facing a Military Divorce

Whether you are a service member contemplating divorce, or the spouse of someone in the military, you should be aware that military divorce is affected by both state and federal law. Divorce is a civil legal action under the jurisdiction of state courts. However, federal law offers certain protections to both service members and military spouses. For example, the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) is a law intended to protect the interests of military spouses in divorce.

It is important to work with a divorce attorney who understands the interplay of state and federal law in a military divorce and who can protect your access to all military benefits for which you may be eligible. If you have questions about your rights in a military divorce, please contact Brinkley Law Firm, LLC to schedule a consultation.

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Since founding Brinkley Law Firm in 2011, attorney Stephanie Brinkley has helped families grow and expand by navigating them through the legal challenges surrounding Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) and Adoption. As an attorney who focuses on f… Read More
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Originally from Los Angeles, Christopher Kays moved to Charleston in 2007 when he reported to The Citadel for his knob year to study psychology. As a cadet, Christopher volunteered at the VA hospital and helped establish Leadership Day, The Citadel… Read More

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