Dependents and US Military Enlistment Standards

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Enlisting in the military for many people may seem like a way to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, when it comes to debt and other financial responsibilities, enlistment may not be an option for you depending on your credit history, financial responsibilities and your responsibilities to your dependents. 

Military Regulations and Dependents

The military has regulations that actually require you to provide adequate financial support for your dependents. Because of this, the military limits the number of dependents an applicant can have. Those who exceed the stated number of dependents require a waiver to enlist.

Before a dependency waiver is granted for any of the services, the recruiting service will conduct a financial eligibility determination (i.e., they will look closely at your household bills and the income of your spouse).​

  • Navy: The Navy requires a waiver for any applicant with more than one dependent (including the spouse).
  • Marine Corps: In the Marine Corps, a waiver is required if an applicant has any dependent under the age of 18.
  • Air Force: The Air Force will do a financial eligibility determination if the member has any dependents.
  • Army: The Army requires a waiver if the applicant has two or more dependents (in addition to the spouse).
  • Coast Guard: The Coast Guard requires a waiver if there is more than one dependent (other than spouse) unless the applicant is enlisting in the grade of E-4 or above when the limit is two dependents (other than spouse).

Who Does the Military Consider a Dependent?

For enlistment purposes, a dependent is defined as:

  • A spouse, to include a common law spouse if the state recognizes such; or
  • Any natural child (legitimate or illegitimate) or child adopted by the applicant, if the child is under 18 years of age and unmarried, regardless of whether or not the applicant has custody of the child. The term natural child includes any illegitimate child when: the applicant claims the child as theirs, or the applicant's name is listed on the birth certificate as the parent, or a court order establishes paternity, or if any person makes an allegation of paternity that has not been finally adjudicated by a court; or
  • A stepchild of the applicant who resides with the applicant if the stepchild is under 18 years of age; or
  • Any parent or other person(s) who is/are, in fact, dependent on the applicant for more than one-half of their support.

When Does the Military Not Consider a Spouse as a Dependent?

In general and for enlistment purposes, an applicant is considered to be without a spouse (i.e., unmarried), if:

  • Common law marriage has not been recognized by a civil court or state law.
  • The spouse is incarcerated.
  • The spouse is deceased.
  • The spouse has deserted the applicant.
  • The spouse legally separated from the applicant (for the Army, separation by "mutual consent" is sufficient).
  • The applicant or spouse has filed for divorce. (Note: If the divorce action is contested, the service may deny enlistment until after the dispute is resolved in family court).