What to Know About Getting Married in the Military

Active Duty Spouse or Member - About Marriage in the Military

A married military couple sharing quality time
Getty Images/Camille Tokerud

If you are planning on joining the military and planning on getting married, there are certain advantages and disadvantages to tying that knot before you leave for basic training. As with any marriage, there are challenges. However, there are many challenges unique to the military. Being gone half the time is a real possibility depending on what job in the military and person selects. There are some jobs that do not deploy at all (recruiter, programmer, some drone pilots, etc)

The divorce rate in the United States is about 50 percent, and that statistic follows over to the military. The military divorce rate is traditionally a little higher, because of the difficulty of a military life brings its challenges to the family. Frequent moves and trips, unaccompanied assignments, long working hours, combat deployments, and potentially dangerous work can add to the stresses of married life. Some units within the military such as special operations tend to have a higher average divorce rate than other military counterparts and civilian society. However, the military provides many benefits to help the family, unlike many other employers, do. Here are a few of the monetary and living benefits available to military members:

Advantages of Military Marriage

The military is a good employer to those with families as there are many programs and benefits for the family and spouses of the military member. Here is a list of many of them:

Housing Allowance

A married service member receives a Housing Allowance while in basic training and follow-on job training (Technical School, AIT, A-School), to provide a household for his or her dependents, even though they are also living for free in government quarters (barracks). If you get married before joining the military, this tax-free housing allowance begins on the very first day of active duty (the first day of basic training).

If you wait until after joining the military to get married, the housing allowance becomes effective on the date of the marriage. It can be a significant and tax-free addition to the monthly payment and usually covers the rent or mortgage in full in most situations. 

Medical Care

Dependents of active duty members are covered by the Military Medical System (Tricare), effective the very first day of active duty. During basic training in-processing, the recruit completes paperwork to enroll their dependents in DEERS (Defense Eligibility Enrollment System), and for a military dependent ID Card. The ID Card paperwork is mailed to the spouse who can then take it to any military installation and obtain a military dependent ID Card.

Family Separation Allowance

Married members are entitled to a Family Separation Allowance, when they are separated from their dependents, due to military orders. The tax-free allowance begins after separation of 30 days. It means married people in basic training and technical school (if the technical school duration is less than 20 weeks) begins to receive this pay 30 days after going on active duty. Single personnel do not receive this allowance.

Movement of Dependents and Household Goods

The married military member is entitled to move their dependents (and personal property) to the next duty station at government expense. Travel entitlements end when one signs in at their new duty station, so whether or not one can be reimbursed for dependent travel depends on the date of the marriage.

Commissary, Exchange, Base Privileges

You will find many people on base in the same position as you, and they will become family. Base schools offer unique environments to military children in pre-school and elementary schools on many bases. The no tax and lower than average shopping experience at the grocery store and base stores are also helpful to the monthly budget. Social activities are also prevalent on base and in the surrounding area for the military family to help with the departure of a spouse on deployment. 

During Job Training

If a technical school, AIT, or A-school is 20 weeks or longer in duration (at a single location), one is entitled to move their dependents to their school location at government expense. They are then (usually 30 days after arrival) allowed to live with their dependents after duty hours.

Single members, of course, cannot move their girl/boyfriends at government expense, nor will they be allowed to live off-base (even at their own expense) at job training locations. If the job training is less than 20 weeks, a married person can still elect to move his/her dependents (at his/her own expense), but would (usually) be allowed to live with them off base.

It would be beginning 30 days after arrival, with the school commander's permission (as long as the student is doing okay in class, such permission is routinely granted). If the dependents do move to the member's school location, Family Separation Allowance stops.

Dependent Support

All of the services have regulations which require military members to provide adequate support to their dependents. While in basic training and job school, you're being provided a housing allowance for the sole purpose of providing a place to live for your dependent family members. If your spouse makes an official complaint to your commander that you are failing or refusing to provide financial support, you could be disciplined or at least called into the Commander's office.

While one doesn't want to think about divorce when they are anxious to get married, divorce is a real possibility. There is at least a 50% possibility not matter what your career is. Military members should be aware that there is a special law that applies to them when it comes to divorce and retirement pay. The Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act (USFSPA) allows any state court to treat your FUTURE military retired pay as joint property, to be divided with your spouse, in the event of a divorce. But you should read the link about it as it only pertains to 20+ year retired members and the percentage is not necessarily half - depends on how much time in service you had married to your spouse.