Military Divorce Rate: Analyzing Trends and Factors

Divorce rates among military personnel have been a topic of concern and discussion for some time. Serving in the armed forces inherently comes with unique stressors, such as frequent deployments, long periods of separation, and the elevated risks associated with military careers. These factors can contribute to marital strain and potentially increase the likelihood of divorce.

Recent statistics have shown that divorce rates among active-duty troops have remained relatively stable despite these challenges. In 2019, about 30,608 military marriages ended in divorce, with a 2.5 percent divorce rate for males and a notably higher 7 percent rate for females. These figures reveal that female service members face a considerably higher divorce rate than their male counterparts, nearly triple that of males, which warrants further investigation and attention.

While enlisted troops experience a divorce rate of 3.5 percent, officers have a significantly lower rate of 1.7 percent. This discrepancy raises questions about the potential factors contributing to the differing divorce rates between these two groups within the military community. Understanding and addressing the underlying causes of military divorce rates may improve support for service members and their families, ultimately fostering stronger and more resilient military communities.

Military Divorce Overview

Just like civilian divorces, military divorces involve various legal aspects and can be complex due to the unique circumstances surrounding military service.

Divorce rates among active-duty troops have remained relatively stable in recent years, fluctuating between 3% and 3.1% since 2014. Though the rates have gradually decreased, they are still a concern to military families as they can be higher than other professions.

It is important to note that military divorce rates differ between males and females. In 2019, around 30,608 military marriages ended in divorce. Furthermore, the legal divorce process can be more complicated for military families, who may face additional rules and regulations.

Military families dealing with divorce can find support in various ways. The Department of Defense offers financial counseling so individuals can better manage their budgets after the divorce since the financial situation may change. Service members and their families can call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 to learn more about available resources.

Divorced military spouses may also be eligible for certain rights and benefits. The 20/20/20 rule allows a former spouse to receive medical, commissary, exchange, and theater privileges under certain conditions. The spouse must have been married to the military member for at least 20 years, with the service member having at least 20 years of military service and at least 15 years of overlap between the marriage and military service.

In conclusion, military divorce is a challenging aspect faced by military families, with unique circumstances, rules, and benefits. Both service members and their spouses must know their rights and options during this difficult time.

Factors Affecting Military Divorce Rate

Stress and Combat

Military life can be highly demanding and stressful, with servicemen and servicewomen experiencing dangerous combat situations. The combat experience can put immense stress on individuals and their relationships, potentially leading to marital discord.

Frequent Relocations

Military families often face the challenge of frequent relocations, which can be disruptive to the family dynamic. Moving expenses and the process of adjusting to a new environment can place additional strain on military marriages. The need to move frequently can lead to further stress and instability in the relationships of military personnel, possibly increasing the risk of divorce.


Deployments, common across branches such as the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy, call for active duty servicemen and servicewomen to spend lengthy periods away from their families. Deployments can cause emotional hardship and financial strain on military couples, negatively impacting their marital satisfaction.

Mental Health Challenges

The demands of military life can lead to various mental health challenges, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety. These mental health issues can directly affect relationships, sometimes resulting in infidelity or divorce. As military personnel faces unique stressors associated with their service, addressing these mental health challenges becomes crucial to maintaining healthy relationships.

Military Divorce Rate Trends and Comparisons

Military divorce rates have demonstrated peculiar trends compared to the U.S. divorce rate, with higher numbers for enlisted troops and female service members. Based on Pentagon data, the overall divorce rate has remained stable, hovering around 3% to 3.1% in recent years. However, these rates vary significantly among enlisted members, officers, and genders.

Additionally, a 2022 report from the Miller Law Firm states that military members have the highest divorce rate of any profession, with about 3.09% of military members who married and held military jobs in 2019 divorcing that same year. (source: Miller Law Firm).

Enlisted troops tend to have a higher divorce rate than their officer counterparts. Reports indicate that the divorce rate for enlisted troops is about 3.5%, while that for officers is 1.7%. These varying rates could hint at the differing job stressors or socioeconomic backgrounds among troops in different roles.

When considering gender, female service members consistently exhibit higher divorce rates than their male counterparts. In 2018, 6.3% of female troops’ marriages ended in divorce, whereas only 2.6% of male service members’ marriages dissolved. The reasons behind this difference could be multifaceted, including deployment, career advancement, and the impact on family life.

Some branches of the military have also experienced higher divorce rates than others. The recent Pentagon report found that female service members were nearly three times as likely to divorce, irrespective of officer or enlisted status. This trend was found consistently across all branches of the military.

Though higher than the total U.S. divorce rate, the stability in military divorce rates is significant when considering military couples’ unique challenges. Factors like deployments, frequent relocations, and long periods of separation can add considerable stress to military marriages, making stability harder to achieve. However, the lack of drastic fluctuations in divorce rates could also indicate a testament to the resilience and commitment of military families.

Key Laws and Regulations

Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA)

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal law designed to protect active duty military members from certain legal actions, including divorce proceedings. The SCRA allows servicemembers to request a stay or postpone divorce proceedings if they can prove that their military duties make it impossible to participate in the case. The initial stay is typically for at least 90 days but can be extended if the servicemember needs more time. Additionally, the SCRA protects servicemembers from default judgments by requiring courts to appoint an attorney to represent their interests in their absence.

Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA)

The Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) is another crucial law in military divorce cases. This federal law governs how military retirement pay is divided between the servicemember and their former spouse. Under USFSPA, state courts can treat military pensions as marital property and subject them to division during a divorce. However, state courts must adhere to specific jurisdictional requirements, such as:

  • The service member is a legal resident of the state
  • The service member is residing in that state for reasons other than military assignment
  • The servicemember consents to the jurisdiction of that state’s courts over the division of the pension

USFSPA also provides former spouses access to certain military benefits, such as medical care and commissary privileges, if they meet specific criteria. These criteria may include marriage duration, overlap with military service, and the length of the former spouse’s military service.

Military Divorce Process

Choosing a Lawyer

Choosing a lawyer with experience in military legal issues is essential when going through a military divorce. A knowledgeable divorce attorney can help navigate the complexities of military divorce laws, ensuring the best possible outcome for the service member and the nonmilitary spouse. It is recommended to consult with a legal professional familiar with the unique concerns military couples may face.

Mediation and Legal Assistance

Mediation is an alternative to litigation that can be especially beneficial for military divorces. This process involves a neutral third-party mediator who helps the couple reach a mutually agreeable resolution to their legal issues. Military OneSource provides access to resources regarding mediation, giving service members information on this option.

In addition to seeking the advice of a civilian divorce attorney, service members can also turn to their respective branches’ JAG (Judge Advocate General) for legal assistance. However, JAG officers may not represent the service member in court for divorce proceedings. It is crucial to note that, in some situations, separate legal assistance attorneys may need to be appointed to both the military and nonmilitary spouses to ensure fair representation.

Filing for Divorce Overseas

Filing for divorce overseas can present unique challenges for military families. U.S. military divorce laws allow service members and their spouses to file for divorce in the following ways:

  • The state where the nonmilitary spouse resides
  • The state where the service member is currently stationed
  • The state where the service member claims legal residency

Understanding the legal requirements and ensuring a smooth process when filing for divorce overseas is essential, making the advice of a specialized lawyer indispensable.

In conclusion, while somewhat similar to civilian divorces, the military divorce process necessitates additional attention, knowledge, and resources to address military families’ specific needs and concerns. Service members and their spouses can more effectively navigate this challenging time by choosing a suitable lawyer, seeking mediation or legal assistance, and understanding the complexities of filing for divorce overseas.

Financial Implications

20/20/20 and 20/20/15 Rules

In a military divorce, the 20/20/20 and 20/20/15 rules are crucial in determining the benefits available to ex-spouses. The 20/20/20 rule applied when the marriage lasted at least 20 years, the military member completed at least 20 years of service, and 20 years of marriage and service overlap. The non-military spouse retains full military benefits, including TRICARE, commissary, and exchange privileges.

The 20/20/15 rule came into play when the marriage lasted at least 20 years, and the service member completed at least 20 years of service, but the overlap of marriage and service is between 15 and 20 years. Under this rule, the ex-spouse only retains TRICARE benefits for one year after the divorce.

10/10 Rule

The 10/10 rule relates to the division of military retirement pay. According to this rule, if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years, and the service member completed at least 10 years of creditable service during the marriage, the non-military spouse is eligible for direct payment of a portion of the military retirement pay from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).

Retirement Pay and Benefits

In a military divorce, the court can divide disposable retired pay, which is the full military pension minus certain deductions. However, VA disability compensation is not part of the military pension; thus, the court cannot divide it between divorcing spouses.

Child and Spousal Support

Child support and spousal support are crucial aspects of military divorces. The military requires its members to provide financial support to their families, even in the case of a divorce. Each military branch has regulations about the minimum amount of child and spousal support that must be provided. Additionally, state guidelines also apply. When determining child and spousal support, the court will consider the service member’s income, including allowances and benefits.

Understanding the financial implications of a military divorce is essential for both spouses. The 20/20/20 and 20/20/15 rules, the 10/10 rule, and aspects regarding retirement pay and benefits, as well as child and spousal support, can significantly impact each spouse’s financial situation post-divorce.

Housing and Health Care Considerations

When dealing with a military divorce, it is important to consider the impact on housing and health care for the service member and their former spouse.

Family Housing and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

The civilian spouse’s access to installation family housing can be affected during a military divorce. Due to the divorce, they may lose the privilege to live in this provided housing within 30 days of the service member or other family members moving out. Additionally, BAH benefits can change significantly post-divorce. The civilian ex-spouse will no longer receive BAH benefits. For the service member, BAH may switch from “with dependents” to “without dependents,” depending on custody arrangements. It is crucial to note that BAH typically covers around 80% of housing and utility expenses for military personnel.

Identification Card and Temporary Health Care Coverage

After a military divorce, the non-military spouse’s identification card benefits and temporary health care coverage eligibility are essential considerations. The civilian spouse may lose their military identification card, impacting access to various military facilities and programs. Access to health care coverage through TRICARE, the military’s health care program, may also change, with possible eligibility for transitional coverage.

In summary, a military divorce can result in changes to housing, BAH benefits, identification cards, and health care coverage for the service member and their former spouse. Understanding these considerations is crucial for a smoother transition during the divorce process.

Survivor Benefit Plan and Thrift Savings Plan

The Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) is a Department of Defense program that provides financial support to a service member’s spouse or dependents upon the service member’s death. In a military divorce, several factors apply when continuing the SBP coverage for a former spouse.

First, coverage for a former spouse does not automatically continue after the divorce. The retiree must voluntarily request coverage for the former spouse, or the former spouse may request coverage if a court order requires the coverage. The 10/10 rule applies in this context, wherein the former spouse must have at least 10 years of marriage overlapping with 10 years of military service to be eligible for direct payments as a property award from the family court.

On the other hand, Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a retirement savings plan for federal employees and service members. It functions similarly to a private sector 401(k) plan. During a military divorce, annulment, or legal separation, a former spouse or dependents could be awarded a portion of the service member’s TSP account through a valid Retirement Benefits Court Order (RBCO) issued during the proceedings.

In summary, during a military divorce, the former spouse’s eligibility for the continuation of SBP coverage and TSP distribution depends on several factors, such as the length of the marriage, overlapping military service, and court orders. Understanding these financial aspects ensures better outcomes for the involved parties during the divorce process.

Support Programs and Resources

Military couples often face unique challenges, especially during separation and deployment. The military provides various support programs and resources to help navigate these trying times.

One such resource is Military OneSource, offering non-medical counseling and specialty consultations such as building healthy relationships. This service is designed to help members and their families cope with common issues faced during military life, like separation, adjustment, and communication.

The Department of Defense (DoD) is another valuable resource for military families, dedicating various services, policies, and programs to support more than two million service members and their loved ones. The DoD recognizes the immense sacrifices military families make and constantly works towards providing assistance tailored to their needs.

Support programs offered by the military can also include classes and retreats to strengthen relationships and maintain connections while facing separations. Some of these initiatives involve:

  • Care packages
  • Journal exchanges
  • Sharing memories
  • Planning future goals

In addition to these resources, military families have access to free legal help and assistance for handling legal matters such as marriage, separation, and divorce. Eligible former spouses who were married for at least 10 years, overlapping with 10 years of military service, may qualify for direct payments from the military as a ‘property award’ from the family court as per the 10/10 rule.

Military couples are encouraged to use these support programs to maintain healthy relationships and face challenges together. These resources aim to provide the necessary tools and assistance to minimize the stress and strains of military life, helping reduce the potential for divorce or marital dissatisfaction.

Special Considerations for Military Divorces

Military divorces often include unique circumstances that differentiate them from civilian divorces. When a military couple navigates the divorce process, overseas deployment, child custody, exchange access, and active-duty status can significantly impact their experience.

One major challenge military couples face in divorce is dealing with overseas deployment. When one spouse is stationed abroad, it may delay divorce proceedings or complicate reaching agreements on custody or property division. It’s essential to recognize that active-duty troops are often subject to different laws, making jurisdiction and residency requirements even more complex.

Child custody arrangements in military divorces may involve additional stipulations or provisions to accommodate the unique demands of military service. These accommodations can include special visitation or communication arrangements to address the service member’s potential for extended absences or deployments. Parenting plans often need to be detailed and flexible to suit the changing needs of military families.

Exchange access is another aspect to be considered in military divorces. Former spouses of military members may have concerns about maintaining access to on-base amenities and resources, such as the military exchange or commissary. Eligibility for access depends on various factors, including the length of the marriage and military service, as well as the specific terms of the divorce settlement.

Divorce proceedings often occur simultaneously for active-duty troops, with military responsibilities adding to the situation’s complexity. With frequent moves and deployments impacting the process, service members must understand the legal protections they may have under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which allows for the temporary postponement of civil court matters in certain situations. This can provide much-needed relief for those juggling military and personal life during a divorce.

Comparing military divorce rates to civilian rates highlights some notable differences. For instance, enlisted troops have a higher divorce rate (3.5%) than officers (1.7%), with various branches of service displaying slightly different rates. Military life’s demands and challenges can contribute to these differences, as service members face unique pressures that may affect their marriages.

In summary, military divorces involve many unique factors that must be considered. From deployment to child custody arrangements, exchange access, and the impact on active-duty troops, these considerations distinguish military divorces from civilian ones. Understanding these factors can help make the process smoother and more manageable for military service members and their families.