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How Should Military Families Approach a Divorce?

As a military family pursuing a divorce, you may be concerned about how your special needs impact your divorce. It can often be confusing as you try to understand residency requirements, how healthcare and benefits are evaluated, and how custody is handled when one parent is deployed. Our military divorce attorneys at Law Office of Michael R. Young share how military families can approach a divorce.

What Is the Residency Requirement?

To file for divorce in California, at least one party must be a resident of California for at least six months and the county in which they are filing for at least three months. For a military couple to reach the residency requirement in California, one of the following three conditions must be met:

  • The military member must be a resident of California for at least six months,
  • The spouse must be a resident of California for at least six months, or
  • The military member must be stationed in California.

If you do not meet these requirements, you may need to wait to file for divorce until you do qualify for residency, or you can file for a legal separation until you do reach the residency requirements for a divorce. Servicemembers and their spouses who seek legal separations are still considered legally married and must pursue a divorce to dissolve their marriage. In addition, service members who are legally separated are still “subject to adultery provisions of the UCMJ,” until a divorce is finalized.

How Is My Healthcare Affected?

Healthcare benefits are highly contingent on the length of the marriage or the establishment of legal separation. If a couple chooses to pursue a legal separation, both members can retain military healthcare and retirement benefits until the divorce.

20/20/20 Rule

Divorcing couples can use the 20/20/20 rule, which states that a divorced military spouse may continue to receive military healthcare and retirement benefits if they were married for 20 years, the spouse completed at least 20 years of military service, and there was a 20-year overlap between marriage and military service. If a divorcing military couple does meet the 20/20/20 rule, the former spouse can retain their military ID and all of the privileges associated with it, as well as the continuation of TRICARE coverage for health insurance.


For a former military spouse to receive TRICARE coverage, they may need to apply under their own name and their marriage certificate, divorce certificate, and proof of service. This health insurance coverage will be under the divorced individual’s name and not their former spouse’s.

Some former military spouses can continue to use TRICARE for one additional year following their divorce due to the 20/20/15 rule. The 20/20/15 rule involves a marriage of 20 years, 20 years of service, and 15 years of military overlap and marriage. If you pursue medical coverage with TRICARE with the 20/20/15 rule, you will need to find new medical insurance within one year through the Health Insurance Marketplace or through new employment.

If you do not qualify for the 20/20/20 rule or the 20/20/15 rule, then you will need to seek your own healthcare. You can purchase TRICARE’s Continued Health Care Benefit Program for coverage until you purchase new health insurance or retain health insurance with employment.

Would My Work Schedule or Deployment Affect Custody Rights?

As a military member facing deployment, you may be concerned about how your work schedule will affect your custody rights. Similar to how custody is awarded to civilians, custody will be determined based on what is in the child’s best interests. If needed, custody can always be modified; however, a parent’s military status or deployment is not enough for a permanent custody modification.

Your child custody rights will be protected, as your deployment is not a qualifying event for the termination of parental rights or a child custody modification in the future. However, a temporary custody order may be created for the duration of the deployment or you can create a Family Care Plan for your children. Once you return from deployment, your temporary custody order will revert to the previous custody order.

San Bernardino Military Divorce Lawyers

At Law Office of Michael R. Young, we understand that military families may have complex needs in their divorce. Our team is dedicated to advocating for our clients and their families through what is one of the most difficult times in their lives while educating them about the process.

Are you a military member or a military spouse considering a divorce? Schedule a consultation with our military divorce attorney today by contacting us online or calling (909) 315-4588 to learn more about how we can serve you.