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What Are Military Marriage Laws?

It's the basic storyline to many romantic novels: a young soldier is deployed far from home, and meets a beautiful lady who lives close to the base. They court, fall in love, get married, parade under the traditional saber arch and live happily ever after. But what really happens for military couples who seek to marry? This article contains some information to assist young couples in the military thinking about tying the knot.

Getting Married

For military couples who are both U.S. citizens seeking to marry on U.S. soil, the whole marriage process works the same as it does for civilian couples. The couple will need to obtain a marriage license and the application process will vary by state. Married military couples share property the same way as do married civilian couples.

Military service members who marry foreign nationals abroad face a few more challenges. Many of the new procedures are similar to civilians who have destination weddings: they must make sure the marriage is legal in the country in which it is performed. In some countries, the parents of both the bride and the groom need to consent to the marriage. Depending on the circumstances, service members may also need to get permission from their commanding officers.

No matter who or where service members get married, they should take some time to reflect on whether they are ready for marriage and what a lifetime commitment to someone in the military would entail. Military life often includes frequent moves, sometimes far away from other family. The military spouse may not be present for long periods of time, which may include important occasions like childbirth, anniversaries, birthdays, or medical emergencies.

After the Wedding

Military couples must do much of the same work that civilian couples do after the wedding. If the service member married a foreign national, she must apply for her spouse's entry into the U.S. Some military couples may wish to change their names. Military couples must have their marriage certificate, along with several certified copies, so that they can complete all the necessary paperwork.

In addition, military spouses are entitled to a number of benefits. To obtain these, the military spouse must bring a copy of the marriage certificate to her local personnel office in order to get a dependent ID card for her spouse and enroll the spouse in the military's benefit portal, the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). The spouse can then join the service member's medical and dental plans, as well as avail himself of all the resources located on base.

Enrolling a spouse in DEERS will also ensure that the service member’s housing allowance is appropriately adjusted. The service member should also make sure her spouse is listed as a beneficiary on her life insurance policy. The new couple should also consider preparing a power of attorney so that the non-military spouse can conduct business on behalf of their spouse while she is deployed.

Finally, if both people are in the military, they should consider enrolling in the "Join-Spouse" program, which attempts to place military spouses on assignments within 100 miles of each other. While there are no guarantees, the military personnel office has enjoyed some success, particularly when both spouses are members of the same military branch.

Same-Sex Marriages in the Military

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, originally signed into law by President Clinton in 1993, was formally repealed in 2010. Since that time, the military has shifted toward policies which are neutral towards sexual orientation, including those relating to marriage. Under the military's current policy, same-sex spouses of service members are now entitled to the full range of benefits that are available to opposite-sex spouses.

The only requirement is that the same-sex couple obtain a valid marriage certificate. This might require the same-sex couple to travel to a jurisdiction that allows same-sex marriages. If so, the service member may be able to take non-chargeable leave in order to obtain a marriage certificate.

For more information and resources about benefits for same-sex couples, you should contact your local personnel manager or speak with a military lawyer.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified military law attorney to help
you with military-related issues.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)