Getting Married In The Military

Image by Maritsa Patrinos © The Balance 2019 

Serving in the military is a rewarding but challenging profession, but being the spouse of a military member requires an equal amount of maturity and toughness. Deployments can strain the strongest of relationships, however, having a strong spouse at home is a quality needed for military marriages to work. Here are some frequently asked questions about marriage in the military:

What Do I Need To Know?

If you are in the United States (not assigned overseas), getting married as a member of the military is much the same as civilian marriages. You don't need advanced permission and there is no special military paperwork to fill out before the marriage. You simply get married according to the laws of the state where the marriage is taking place after obtaining a marriage license off-base.

If you are overseas and marrying a foreign national, it's a different story. There are multiple forms to complete; you must obtain counseling and your commander's permission (which is rarely withheld without very good reason); your spouse must undergo a security background check and pass a medical examination. Finally, the marriage has to be "recognized" by the United States Embassy. The entire process can take several months.

Regardless of where or who, once married, if the spouse is non-military, the military member can bring a copy of the certified marriage certificate to the Personnel Headquarters on the base to receive a dependent ID card for the spouse, and enroll the spouse in DEERS (Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System), to qualify for military benefits such as medical coverage and commissary and base exchange privileges.

Timing Is Important

Timing can be important in a military marriage. If you have PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders and get married before you actually make the move, you can have your spouse added to your orders and the military will pay for the relocation of your spouse and her property (furniture and such). However, if you report to your new duty assignment first, and then get married, you will have to pay for the relocation of your spouse out of your own pocket.

Getting Married on Base

The point of contact is the chaplain's office. Each military base has one (or more) chapels that are used for religious services. One can get married in a base chapel, just as one can get married in a church off-base. Base chaplains offer a complete variety of marriage choices, including religious (almost any denomination), non-religious, casual, civilian-formal, and military-formal.

If the wedding is conducted by a military chaplain, there is never a fee.

By regulation, chaplains cannot directly accept donations.

Military-Formal Weddings

The military formal wedding would entail the following: An officer or enlisted personnel in the bridal party wear uniforms in accordance with the formality of the wedding and seasonal uniform regulations. For commissioned officers, evening dress uniform is the same as civilian white tie and tails. The dinner or mess dress uniform is equivalent to civilian "black tie" requirements. The choice to attend the wedding in uniform as a military guest is optional.

In the case of non-commissioned officers and other enlisted, dress blues or Army green uniforms may be worn at formal or informal weddings. A female military member (officer or enlisted) may wear a traditional bridal gown, or she may be married in uniform. A boutonniere is never worn with the uniform.

The "Arch of Sabres" is usually part of a military formal wedding. The arch of swords takes place immediately following the ceremony, preferably when the couple leaves the chapel or church, on the steps or walk out of the chapel. However, these sword bearers are your responsibility to gather and can be members of the family, friends, or groomsmen in the wedding. The military does not provide these members at weddings. 

What Is The Difference of Marrying Someone In the Military From a Civilian?

There's one primary difference, and that's in the area of housing benefits allowed after the marriage, rather than actual marriage procedures.

There are two basic types of housing allowance (monetary allowance paid to military members who live off base): Single allowance, and "with dependent" allowance.

  • Usually, single (non-married) military members who are allowed to live off base receive the single allowance.
  • Those who have dependents (civilian spouse and/or children) receive a larger allowance called the "with dependent" allowance.

If two military members marry (assuming there are no children), each receives the single allowance. The total of both of these single allowances is always more than the "with dependent" allowance. If a military member marries another military member and they have children, one member will receive the "with dependent" rate, and the other member will receive the "single" rate. Usually, the member with the most rank receives the "with dependent" rate, because it means more money each month.

Can Married Military Couples Request Postings Together?

Each of the services has a program, called "Join-Spouse" in which the services try as hard as they can to station spouses together, or at least within 100 miles of each other. However, there is absolutely no guarantee. In order for spouses to be stationed together, there have to be "slots" (job positions) available to assign them to.

For example, let's say that an Air Force B-1 aircraft mechanic married a Navy F-14 aircraft mechanic. Because the B-1 bomber is only stationed at certain Air Force bases, and because the F-14 Tomcat Fighter Aircraft is only stationed at certain Navy Bases, this couple is probably never going to be stationed together. The best the services could do would be to try and find a B-1 base as close as possible to an F-14 base (and, if this case, that would be at least 1,000 miles away).

If a military person marries a person in their same service, the chances of getting stationed together are better.

Each of the services boasts about an 85 percent success rate with in-service Join-Spouse. That sounds pretty good until you realize that there are 15 out of 100 military couples in each service who are not stationed together.

When one marries someone in a different service, it becomes more complicated and the success rate of "Join-Spouse" goes down dramatically to somewhere around 50 percent.


Whether on a honeymoon or not, military members can travel "space available" for free on military aircraft to locations around the world. If available leave time is a factor, Space-A travel might not be viable. To travel Space-A, a military member must already be on leave. Sometimes it can take several days for a flight with space available on it to be going in your direction. Also, one wants to make sure that there are adequate funds to buy a return ticket, in case the passenger can't find a Space-A flight available going back to the originating base.

Check out the Armed Forces Vacation Club. This program allows military members to rent luxury condos around the world for $249 per week. In addition, many hotels and resorts offer military discounts; it always pays to ask.

If you're low on cash, a military couple can stay in billeting on any military base, for about $16 to $20 per night —if you don't mind spending your honeymoon on a military base.