Getting Married

Before or After Joining the Military?

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If you are planning on joining the military and planning on getting married, there are certain advantages (as well as some disadvantages) to tying that knot before you leave for basic training.

However, I emphasize that one should not make their marriage decision based primarily on these factors. The divorce rate in the United States is about 50 percent, and that statistic follows over to the military.

In fact, the military divorce rate may be even a little higher, because of the difficulty of a military life (frequent moves, unaccompanied assignments, long working hours, combat deployments, etc.).

But, if you've already made your decision to get married and are now just deciding whether it would be better to get married before or after joining the military, the following information may be of use to you.

Housing Allowance. A married servicemember receives a Housing Allowance while in basic training and follow-on job training (Technical School, AIT, A-School), in order 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 one waits until after joining the military to get married, the housing allowance becomes effective on the date of the marriage.

However, one needs a "certified" copy of the marriage certificate to change their marital status, and (depending on the state) this can take a couple of weeks, or even a month to obtain. Even so, the housing allowance would be "back-dated" to the date of the marriage.

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. If medical care is needed before getting the ID card, the spouse can keep the medical receipts, and then file for reimbursement later, under the Tricare Standard or Tricare Extra program (depending on whether or not the medical provider is part of the Tricare network).

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. This 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. Unless the first duty assignment is an unaccompanied (remote) overseas tour, the married military member is entitled to move their dependents (and personal property) to the first 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.

For example, Airman Jones graduates technical school (Air Force Job Training), then goes home on leave enroute to his first duty assignment. While on leave, Airman Jones gets married. He then reports to his first duty station. He will be entitled to movement of dependents at government expense, because the date of the marriage was before he signed in at the duty station.

Another example: PFC Jackson finishes AIT (Army Job Training) and goes to his first duty assignment. A couple of weeks later, his fiance flies down, and they get married. PFC Jackson cannot move his wife and her property to the duty assignment at government expense, because the marriage occured after he completed his assignment move.

There is an exception to the above rule for certain overseas assignments. When a single person is assigned to a "long" overseas tour, the assignment length is generally 24 months (the unaccompanied tour length). For an accompanied married person, the tour length is usually 36 months. If a single person goes overseas on such a tour, then gets married during the tour, he/she can apply to move his dependents overseas, if they agree to extend his tour-length to the accompanied tour length.

In order to move dependents at government expense, one's "orders" must include authorization to do so. This means that if one gets married at the last minute before leaving job training, or if one gets married on leave enroute to the first assignment, the orders won't have this authorization on it, and will have to be amended after arrival. As the military rarely does paperwork very fast, this amendment process can sometimes take several weeks.

This will delay the reimbursement of dependent moving expenses. If the member had gotten married before joining the military, his/her orders would have had dependent moving entitlements annotated originally, and would thereby avoid this delay in reimbursement.

Job Training. If 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.

In such cases, if the military member elects not to move his/her dependents, the Family Separation Allowance stops, because the member is not being forced to be separated (the dependents are allowed to move at government expense, so if they don't move, that's the member's choice).

Of course, if the dependents do join the member, Family Separation Allowance stops, as well, as the member is no longer separated from his/her dependents due to military orders.

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 (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.

Qualifications. The services require additional paperwork, additional processing, and sometime even waivers for members with dependents. For example, the Air Force requires a credit check for any member who is married or has ever been married. If you're in the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP), and decide to get married before shipping out to basic training, you'll want to check with your recruiter to determine (depending on what additional processing is required, and when you're shipping out) if this would possibly delay your shipping date.

Dependent Support. All of the services have regulations which require military members to provide adequate support to their dependents. In fact, 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 in a heap of trouple.

For details, see our article Child Support, Spouse Support, and Garnishment.

While one doesn't want to think about divorce when they're anxious to get married, divorce is a real possibility (remember the 50 percent statistic). 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 Spouse Protection Act 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.

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