Marital discord is never easy, and getting legally separated or divorced is even harder for anyone – civilian or military. But when a military couple gets separated or divorced, there are military rules that come into play that do not exist in the civilian world.
As a general rule, the military likes to stay out of domestic issues as much as possible and leave the decisions on division of property, child support, and the like to state civilian courts. However, despite this general “hand’s off” policy, the military frowns on its members conducting themselves in an irresponsible way that reflects poorly on the military branch to which the member belongs. The military also recognizes that there is a period of time before a divorce is final where a couple is typically separated and living apart – and the opportunity to act irresponsibly is abundant.
So the military has decided that their members must not dodge financial obligations to their family while separated. To enforce this, each branch of the military has enacted its own rules that dictate how much a service member must pay their estranged spouse during separation, in the absence of a court order or agreement.
It may come as a surprise to some, but as far as the military is concerned, legal separation as a concept doesn’t exist. In other words, either you are married or you are not. And in terms of benefits eligibility, the military treats an estranged spouse exactly as if they were still married until the divorce decree is signed by a judge and entered into the court record. However, when it comes to a service member financially supporting their family during separation, the rules are as follows:
The army has its own guidelines as it pertains to a service member’s financial obligations to their family during a separation. These guidelines are spelled out in Army Regulation 608-99, Family Support, Child Custody & Paternity.
Generally, the army allows couples to work together to reach an agreement as to financial support obligations. The agreement can then be documented in letters, a property settlement agreement, or a separation agreement – but it must be in writing and signed in order to be enforceable. But when a couple cannot agree to support amounts and there is no court order in place, then paragraphs 2-6 of the above regulation applies.
Here is a quick summary of the support requirements (payments are all based on the Basic Allowance for House – II, otherwise known as BAH – II):
- If the spouse or kids are in military housing, they get no further support.
- The BAH-II, with-dependents rate applies if a spouse who is civilian or children are not in military housing.
- The pro rata share of BAH-II at the “with-dependents” rate applies to each family member if a non-military spouse and children are residing at more than one location and not in military housing.
- No payments to a military spouse in a marriage with no children
- No payments to a military spouse in a marriage with children, where the custody of the children is split.
- The difference between BAH-II at the with-dependents rate and the without-dependents rate applies if the spouse is in the military and they have custody of the children.
In MILPERSMAN 1754-030, Chapter 15, Support of Family Members, the navy makes it especially clear that they will not tolerate members of their branch disregarding or ignoring their financial obligations to their family members. Here is the break down of what they expect separated service members to pay their families in the absence of a separation agreement:
- A spouse with no children is entitled to ⅓ of the service member’s gross pay. (Gross pay is base pay plus basic allowance for housing.)
- ½ of the member’s gross pay is to be given to a spouse with a single child.
- ⅗ of the member’s gross pay is given to a spouse with 2 or more children.
- ⅙ of the member’s gross pay is given for the support of just 1 minor child.
- ¼ of the gross pay is given to support 2 minor children.
- ⅓ of the gross pay is given to support 3 minor children.
It’s also interesting to note that even though most states are “no-fault” divorce states, the Navy will waive the above obligations if the service member’s spouse deserted them without cause, if they physically abused the member, or if the spouse was unfaithful.
The air force treats this entire subject quite differently than its sister branches. They do not even attempt to define the proper amount of support. Although Air Force Instruction 36-2906, Personal Financial Responsibility states that service members are expected to continue to support their family during a separation even in the absence of a court order or agreement, they utterly fail to set out guidelines as to how much that support should be.
What does this mean to you if you are the spouse of a member of the air force who is going through a separation? It means that you would be incredibly wise to get a court order for support that will be in effect during your separation and before your divorce is finalized. Otherwise, you may be on your own for the most part.
Just like the Navy, the Marines don’t pull any punches when it comes to the duty of their members to support their families during a separation. MCO P5800.16A, Marine Corps Manual for Legal Administration, Chapter 15, Section 15001 states clearly that the Marines won’t serve as a haven for those seeking to dodge their familial support obligations. Here are their rules as they pertain to how much support a Marine shall provide to their family in the absence of an agreement or court order:
- ½ of the housing allowance: minimum $350 each for 1 family member
- ⅓ of the housing allowance or a minimum of $286 each for 2 family members
- ¼ housing allowance or a minimum of $233 each for 3 family members
- ⅕ housing allowance or a minimum of $200 each for 4 family members
- ⅙ housing allowance or a minimum of $174 each for 5 family members
- 1/7 housing allowance or a minimum of $152 each for 6 or more family members
Contact a Lawyer Well-Versed in Military Law
If you are separated from a military service member and need assistance navigating what can be a complex military and civilian legal system, speak to an attorney at Batson Nolan PLC. We are experienced in the aspects of military divorce and help you during this difficult period of life. Call us today, or contact us online to set up a free consultation in our Clarksville or Springfield office.