Abandoned Military Spouses: An Unpleasant Reality

Your rights may differ depending on your spouse's branch of service

Servicemember waving goodbye to wifr
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Are you the spouse of a servicemember and feel that you’ve been abandoned by him or her? Regardless of what’s caused the problems in your marriage, and whether you’re a husband or wife, you do have some rights. In this article, we’ll talk about what they are and how to access them. Keep in mind, though, depending on your spouse’s branch of service, those rights may differ. 

What is Abandonment?

The legal definition of abandonment is a deliberate act to leave a spouse (husband or wife) without discussing it, obtaining consent, and in some cases, without notifying the spouse of the departure.

Abandonment also implies no intention to return.

Common Military Benefits for Abandoned Military Spouses

  • Medical: Medical benefits are available until divorce has been finalized. In some cases, depending on the length of the marriage, medical benefits may be extended.
  • Housing and housing allowance: Servicemembers generally have some kind of housing allowance. If that member has dependents, that allowance increases. In the event the servicemember has abandoned the family, the remaining spouse may be entitled to a portion of the housing allowance. 
  • Military ID cards: Military ID cards are federal government property. A servicemember is not allowed to take military ID cards from the dependent spouse. If that happens—or if the servicemember is making threats about it—notify his or her command.
  • Base services, support, and chain of command: As the spouse of a servicemember, you have equal opportunities to access base childcare facilities, military legal assistance and attorneys, and counseling services. 
  • Support: Each branch has policies in place that require a servicemember to support his or her family members. This applies whether the separation or divorce is due to abandonment or court order. In most cases, the support services you’re entitled to are temporary, so it’s a good idea to try to get a court order for support and maintenance.
  • Financial support: If you’re not receiving any financial support from the absent servicemember, contact your spouse’s commander or a local judge advocate general’s office. Be aware, though, that unlike with court-ordered support, your spouse’s commander is not allowed to divert any of his or her pay to you.

    If your spouse refuses to offer financial support, he or she may be punished under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Defense Financing Accounting Service may also take actions to recoup (and transfer to you) some or all of the basic allowances you and your children are entitled to.

Abandoned Spouse Policies by Branch

Army (Army Regulation 608-99, Family Support, Child Custody, and Paternity). You’ll find a ton of great information here about everything in the title and a lot more, including visitation, release from specific regulatory requirements, command responses to inquiries, and requests for assistance from government officials based on court orders.

Navy (Chapter 15 of Naval Military Personnel Manual 1754-030, "Support of Family Members). This document is very clear from the start, that "The Navy will not act as a haven for personnel who disregard or evade obligations to their legal family members." This manual also offers information about sufficient support, limitations the Navy’s authority in civil matters, support in lieu of mutual agreement or court order, legal obligations and information regarding basic housing allowances noncompliance, commanders’ responsibilities, and more.

Marines (Marine Corps order P5800.16A, "Marine Corps Manual for Legal Administration”). Pay special attention to Chapter 15 (Dependent Support and Paternity) and Chapter 14 (Legal Assistance and Tax Program).

Air Force (Air Force Instruction 36-2906, "Personal Financial Responsibility). This document covers cases of non-supportive family members (Section 1.2.3.7) Basic Allowance for Housing (Section 1.2.3.7.3), and many other important issues.

If you feel that you’ve been abandoned by your spouse and have questions about any of this or you need guidance or advice, contact your base family services information centers.