Rights and Benefits for Abandoned Military Spouses

In family law, abandonment is the act of deliberately leaving one’s spouse without consent (or, in many cases, notification) and with no intent to return. If your service member spouse has left you, you should know that you do have rights and are entitled to support.

Your military benefitsIf your service member spouse has abandoned you and your family, it is important to remember that you are still technically married to him or her. As the spouse of a service member, you are entitled to various benefits from the military. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Housing/housing allowance. Housing allowances are an additional monetary amount paid to service members in lieu of furnished quarters. When a service member has dependents, the amount of the allowance is increased to support both the service member and his or her family. If your spouse has abandoned your family, you should be entitled to a portion of this allowance.
  • Military ID card. As a military spouse, your military ID card is the key to accessing all of the benefits to which you are entitled. This includes access to the military installation, shopping privileges at the commissary and exchanges, and support from various military services available on the installation. Please note that your service member cannot take your military ID away from you. Your ID is not the property of the service member; it is the property of the Federal Government. As a spouse, you are entitled to this ID and should notify your spouse’s command if he or she tries to take it from you.
  • Medical benefits. You are entitled to medical benefits through your spouse until your divorce is final. Under certain circumstances, you may keep your medical benefits even after a divorce, but this generally applies to couples married for longer periods of time.
  • Installation support services/chain of command. As a spouse, you have access to child care facilities aboard the installation, counseling services, and military legal assistance attorneys that can help you work through divorce proceedings. Additionally, with access to the installation comes access to the chain of command to help locate your spouse and receive support from him or her.

Military policies regarding abandoned spousesEach of the Services has policies requiring service members to support family members upon separation in the absence of an agreement or court order. You should note though that these policies are designed to be temporary measures, and that you may be better off seeking a court order for temporary support and maintenance.

If your spouse is not providing you financial support, you can request assistance from his or her commander or through the local Judge Advocate General (JAG) office (legal assistance). You should know though that unlike court-ordered support, this type of support cannot be garnished from your spouse’s pay and his or her commander cannot actually divert his or her pay to you. However, if your spouse fails to pay support, he or she could be punished under Article 92 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for a violation of a lawful general regulation. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) may recoup any basic allowance for housing (BAH) your spouse received for dependents he or she was not actually supporting.

  • Army. Army Regulation (AR) 608-99, Family Support, Child Custody and Paternity, requires Soldiers to pay temporary support depending upon the family situation. All payments are based upon BAH-II, the housing allowance without the locality allowance. AR 608-99 sets the following support requirements in the absence of a court order:
    • Civilian spouse/children not in military housing: BAH-II at the with-dependents rate
    • Civilian or military spouse/children in military housing: None
    • Civilian spouse/children not in military housing living at different locations: Pro rata share of BAH-II at the with-dependents rate to each family member
    • Military spouse, no children: None
    • Military spouse, split custody of children: None
    • Military spouse, spouse has children: Difference between BAH-II at the with-dependents rate and the without-dependents rate
  • Marine Corps. Chapter 15 of Marine Corps Order (MCO) P5800.16A, Marine Corps Manual for Legal Administration, provides monthly support standards Marines must follow in the absence of an agreement or court order. Under no circumstances may a Marine be required to pay more than 1/3 of his or her gross military pay, which includes base pay and all allowances. Upon request by a family member, the amount payable is expressed as a fraction of the BAH or Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA) the Marine is receiving, with a minimum dollar level per family member:
    • One family member: 1/2 BAH/OHA, minimum $350 each
    • Two family members: 1/3 BAH/OHA, minimum $286 each
    • Three family members: 1/4 BAH/OHA, minimum $233 each
    • Four family members: 1/5 BAH/OHA, minimum $200 each
    • Five family members: 1/6 BAH/OHA, minimum $174 each
    • Six or more family members: 1/7 BAH/OHA, minimum $152 each
  • Navy. Chapter 15 of Naval Military Personnel Manual (MILPERSMAN) 1754-030, Support of Family Members, provides a guide for family support in the absence of an agreement or court order. The financial obligation is expressed as a fraction of the Sailor’s “gross pay” (defined as base pay plus BAH, if entitled, but excludes all other allowances):
    • Spouse only: 1/3 of gross pay
    • Spouse and one minor child: 1/2 of gross pay
    • Spouse and two or more children: 3/5 of gross pay
    • One minor child only: 1/6 of gross pay
    • Two minor children only: 1/4 of gross pay
    • Three minor children only: 1/3 of gross pay
  • Air Force. Air Force Instruction (AFI) 36-2906, Personal Financial Responsibility, requires service members, in the absence of an agreement or court order, to “provide adequate financial support to family members.” Unlike the other Services, the Air Force does not define the level of support, instead leaving it up to you and your spouse and/or civilian courts if you and your spouse do not agree.

Under certain circumstances, the service member may be relieved of the obligation for financial support in the absence of a court order. These circumstances typically include those where the spouse has a higher income than the service member and instances where the service member was the victim of domestic abuse. Please contact your legal assistance attorney for more information.

Setting up an allotment and getting a court orderIf you want to try to avoid going to court first for financial support, you can try asking the service member to set up a voluntary allotment with the Finance office. A voluntary allotment is a designated amount of money from the service member’s pay set up by the service member that is automatically distributed to you. While voluntary allotments avoid time in a court, you should know that these allotments are not mandatory and that the service member would need to agree to set up the allotment and would be able to stop or adjust the allotment at any time.

If you are unable to reach an agreement on a voluntary allotment, you should meet with an attorney to discuss obtaining a court order to establish an involuntary allotment. The military cannot deduct money from a service member’s pay without his or her consent, unless a civilian court has ordered a garnishment or involuntary allotment. With a court order, your spouse cannot stop or adjust the allotment.

Installation legal assistance officesFor more assistance on divorce proceedings or to file claims for support, please contact your local legal assistance attorney. You can find the contact information of your local legal assistance office through the MilitaryINSTALLATIONS application, under the program/service “Legal services/JAG” or through the Armed Forces Legal Assistance Legal Services Locator application.