Rights and Benefits for Abandoned Military Spouses
Family law defines abandonment as the act of deliberately leaving one's spouse without consent (or notification, in many cases) with no intent of returning. If your service member spouse has left you, know that you have rights and are entitled to support.
It's important to remember you're still technically married to your service member spouse if he or she abandons you and your family. As a service member's spouse, that means you're still entitled to military benefits, even if your spouse left you. Although there are a number of ways to getting the financial support you may be entitled to — including court orders and using the service member's chain of command — each service has its own regulations that may apply to your circumstances.
Your military benefits
The military benefits you're entitled to as a military spouse include, but aren't limited to:
- Housing or a housing allowance — This is an additional amount paid to service members instead of providing quarters. If your spouse abandoned your family, you should be entitled to a portion of this allowance.
- Military ID card —Your service member cannot take your ID card away, and you can continue to access the privileges your ID card provides, even if your spouse leaves you.
- Medical benefits — You're still entitled to medical benefits through your service member, even if you're estranged, for as long as you stay married.
- Installation support services — You have access to child care facilities on the installation and to counseling services, including military legal assistance attorneys who can help you work through divorce proceedings.
- Chain of command — Access to the installation includes access to the chain of command to help find your spouse and receive support from him or her.
Military policies regarding abandoned spouses
Each service branch has policies that require service members to support family members upon separation if there's no agreement or court order. Here's a summary of each service's policy:
- Army — AR 608-99: Family Support Fact Sheet
- Marine Corps — Chapter 15 of Marine Corps Order P5800.16A, "Marine Corps Manual for Legal Administration"
- Navy — Chapter 15 of Naval Military Personnel Manual 1754-030, "Support of Family Members"
- Air Force — Air Force Instruction 36-2906, "Personal Financial Responsibility"
It's important to keep these details in mind:
- These policies are designed to be temporary measures, so you may be better off seeking a court order for temporary support and maintenance.
- Your spouse could be punished under Article 92 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice for a violating a lawful general regulation if he or she fails to pay support.
- The service member's financial support obligation may be waived under certain circumstances if there's no court order — for instance, if the spouse's income is higher than the service member's, or if the service member was a victim of domestic abuse.
Other options to consider
You could try to get an allotment for financial support:
- Voluntary allotment — Avoid going to court by asking your spouse to set up a voluntary allotment with the financial office, which will automatically distribute a set amount of your spouse's pay to you. Since this is a voluntary process, your spouse can elect to change or stop the allotment at any time.
- Involuntary allotment — The military cannot deduct money from a service member's pay without his or her consent, unless a civilian court orders a garnishment or involuntary allotment. If you get a court order, your spouse cannot stop or adjust the allotment.
Remember that as a military spouse, you have certain rights and benefits to help you through this challenging process. Knowing your rights and benefits can help you protect yourself and your family.