All of the armed military services, which are the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Space Force and Coast Guard, have guidelines requiring its members to support family members in the event of separation or divorce. Of course, any legal agreement or order of a civilian court of law overrides the guidelines of the armed services. So, if a person has a legal agreement or court order that relieves them of any legal obligation to pay support, they do not have to pay.

Also, the military guidelines are designed to address temporary needs while the parties seek the legal services they need and come to an agreement outside of the military. The military guidelines are not supposed to be used as permanent requirements.

If a service member does not provide support, the spouse seeking support can request help from the service member’s commander, and if that fails, the office of the local Judge Advocate General (JAG) or the Inspector General (IG). But these offices cannot order a service member to pay support.

Commanders can, however, encourage a service member to provide spousal and child support. And they can apply measures, such as officer fitreps, enlisted evals, and non-judicial and judicial punishments as appropriate. Also, it is possible for the Defense Finance and Account Service (DFAS) to recoup the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) that has been paid to the service member but not appropriately used to support the member’s family. This seldom happens, but it is possible.

The pay of a military member cannot be garnished by military authorities for family support unless an ex-spouse is seeking to collect support ordered by a civilian court. A military commander cannot actually force a service member to pay support to their spouse or ex-spouse. However, a service member who fails to pay could be reprimanded under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for violation of a lawful general regulation.

Each branch has its own guidelines, so a service member would want to determine which guidelines apply in their specific branch.

For example, in the Air Force, commanders are supposed to advise members that it is Air Force policy that they provide adequate financial support to family members. Commanders are also supposed to inform the member of the procedures that the family member can follow to obtain involuntary collection of support through garnishment or statutory allotments.

Air Force members are directed to provide adequate financial support to a spouse, child or any other relative for whom the member receives additional allowances for support. Members are also required to comply with the financial support provisions of a court order or legal written support agreement.

The Air Force does not suggest amounts of support. If a commanding officer receives a complaint of non-support, they should require the service member to prove that they are supporting their family. The commanding officer is not permitted to define what level of support is considered adequate.

The Coast Guard lacks the authority under federal law to compel members to support their family member or to exercise discretion over a member’s pay with the exception of garnishment orders issued by court. However, the Coast Guard honors the obligation to support dependents and considers this obligation binding on all Coast Guard members under penalty of administrative or disciplinary action, or both.

The applicable rule in the Coast Guard states that, in the absence of a court order directing the amount of support to be provided, a commanding officer is to apply certain formulas provided in the rules.

It is important to keep in mind that these regulations and guidelines are not meant to replace the legal process of pursuing child and spousal support agreements through the appropriate civilian court system. Divorce is a civilian legal matter, and should be handled through the civilian legal system. However, until a person is able to proceed through the legal system, these guidelines and regulations provide some protections.

Again, however, the civilian legal system is equipped to issue temporary orders for support while a divorce or separation case is moving through the legal system, so asking for temporary court orders is a person’s best move.

The Navy also has its guidelines for family support. The Navy also has specific formulas for calculating a sailor’s gross pay, i.e. add the base pay and housing allowances. Not included in the calculation of gross pay are the Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), incentive pay, sea pay, hazardous duty pay, or any other specialty type of pay. The gross pay is then divided as follows for the purpose of calculating family support payments:

  • Spouse only: 1/3 gross pay;
  • Spouse and one child: 1/2 gross pay;
  • Spouse and two or more children: 3/5 gross pay;
  • One minor child only: 1/6 gross pay;
  • Two minor children only: 1/4 gross pay;
  • Three minor children only: 1/3 gross pay.

The Army, Marines, and the Space Force all have their own rules and regulations also. It is important to keep in mind that these rules and regulations are subject to change, so a person would want to consult the rules directly or a family law attorney who is familiar with the military situation for guidance.

Do I Have to Provide Spousal Support to an Abusive Spouse If I Am in the Military?

If a person is in this situation, i.e. separated or divorced from a civilian spouse who is abusive, and there is a documented account of the abuse, the military may not require the person to pay spousal support to the abusive spouse.

However, if doctors, courts or military family advocacy case management teams have never verified the abuse, the military may require the person to pay spousal support to the civilian spouse. A service member may want to consult a military lawyer to discuss their rights. Their best course of action, however, is to pursue a solution in a civilian court of law.

Do I Have to Provide Spousal Support If My Civilian Spouse Makes More Money Than I Do?

If, after a divorce, a civilian spouse makes more money than their military ex-spouse, the military spouse’s commander may release the military spouse from having to pay spousal support to the civilian spouse. The commander should defer to a civilian court order, if there is one. After going through a divorce or legal separation, however, a person should have a court order regarding spousal support.

What If My Spouse Is in Jail?

If a person’s spouse is currently in jail, their commander may consider them released from having to pay spousal support. The commander might refrain from using whatever tools they have to promote the payment of spousal support. Although their commander may have some authority, they may choose not to exercise it for various reasons.

Again, a person should pursue a legal action for separation or divorce, if they wish to separate from or divorce their imprisoned spouse. A court order would provide resolution of the issue.

My Civilian Spouse and I Have Been Separated More than 18 Months. Do I Still Have to Pay Spousal Support?

If a person has been separated from their spouse for more than 18 months, and have made all the necessary financial support payments during that time, their commander may release them from having to pay continued spousal support. Although their commander has this authority, they may choose not to release the person from this obligation for various reasons. Again, final resolution should be sought in a civilian court of law.

Does the Military Require That I Pay Spousal Support?

Some of the military services have guidelines that require members to provide adequate spousal support to family members. However, the military has absolutely no authority, without a court order, to force an individual to pay such support, if the individual does not want to pay.

If a military member fails to provide the spousal support, the military can discipline the member, but the imposition of a penalty is usually protected under the Privacy Act of 1974 and the military is not allowed to disclose the penalty to anyone.

How Does the Military Decide How Much Support I Should Pay?

As noted above, only some of the branches have guidelines for specific amounts of support. And, again, no branch can order a member to pay family support. They can encourage, recommend, and possibly discipline a member if it is not done, but they cannot order the payment of support. That is a matter for civilian courts of law.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Military Family Support Issue?

Because of the special circumstances of military life, it may be wise to consult an experienced family law attorney. Speaking with an experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and help you deal with your military obligations.

Your lawyer can help you as well with the civilian legal system in which a person can pursue a separation or divorce and any orders for spousal or child support that a person might need.