How Does a Military Grandparent get a Grandchild in their Custody TRICARE Eligible?

Recently I’ve helped several active and retired military grandparents who, having gained possession of a grandchild, need to make the grandchild eligible for TRICARE enrollment.  If the grandchild isn’t adopted by the grandparents, DOD regulations require that the grandchild qualify as a “legal ward” to be eligible.  While each service has its own regulations enacting DOD policy, I’ll refer to Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-3026, Identification Cards for Members of the Uniformed Services, Their Eligible Family Members, and Other Eligible Personnel.   Other service regulations, of course, mirror the same requirements, because they stem from DOD policy.

The AFI outlines requirements for a “Legal Ward” as follows (paraphrased for ease of understanding) 1:

  • An unmarried child less than 21 years of age, or less than 23 years of age if in college;
  • The military member has been designated by a “court of competent jurisdiction2” as the “managing conservator” of the child; and
  • The court order specifies that the length of conservatorship as not less than 12 consecutive months or permanent. [emphasis added].
In Texas, being designated as “managing conservator” means that you have legal responsibility for the custody, care and control of the child, including but not limited to the following:
  • Right to determine the residence of the child;
  • Right to make educational and medical decisions for the child;
  • Duty to provide food, clothing, shelter for the child
  • Right to reasonably discipline the child; and,
  • Right to direct the religious and moral education of the child.

Ultimately, the military grandparent needs a “Final Order” that appoints them as managing conservator.  Since a Final Order contains no time limitation, it constitutes a permanent appointment. 

How long it takes to get a Final Order depends on whether the biological parents cooperate and consent or not.  With cooperation and consent, I’ve helped military grandparents obtain a Final Order in about a month.  Without cooperation and consent, it could take 3-6 months, perhaps longer.

One of the first questions I typically get is, “Can’t we speed the process along by getting a Temporary Order?”  The answer is, no.  In general, military authorities don’t consider Temporary Orders as satisfying the requirement for the appointment to be at least 12 consecutive months.  Temporary Orders, by their very nature, are subject to change at any time. 

Speak with a qualified military family law attorney if you have other questions. 

Author Jim Cramp is a retired active duty colonel and the founder and principal attorney at the Cramp Law Firm, PLLC.  The firm provides a spectrum of family law-related services to clients in the greater San Antonio region, across the United States and throughout the world.  The firms also provides Wills and Estates and Probate services.

Note 1:  See AFI 36-3026, paragraph 4.13.1 and Table 4.10. 

Note 2:  A court of competent jurisdiction is defined as a court of one of the U.S. States or a U.S. territory or possession.  Orders for foreign nations do not qualify.