If your wife serves in the nation’s military, she has provided you with a valuable benefit: military entitlements. You can use TRICARE, shop at the base commissary, get discounts at the Base Exchange, and relax a bit with Military Welfare and Recreation (MWR) at gyms, pools, golf courses and bowling alleys. When you two make the decision to separate, do you get to continue enjoying any of those perks?
Most military families are thoroughly familiar with the long list of benefits available through military entitlements, but in case you have missed out, Military.Com has a succinct article giving a nice rundown of them. In addition to everything listed, don’t overlook things like:
- Equipment rentals
- Vacation resorts and campgrounds
- Reduced-cost gasoline, liquor and groceries
- On-base childcare
- Youth programs for dance, sports, and clubs
- Base Allowance for Housing (BAH)
Legal Separation in Virginia
In Virginia, you are not “legally separated,” in the sense that nothing magical happens to your marital status if you two separate. The Commonwealth does not issue any order of “legal separation,” but will recognize a starting point for the six-month or one-year separation needed for an uncontested or no-fault divorce.
You can start the countdown calendar to a divorce by noting the date of your separation, but you retain all the rights and privileges of marriage even during separation (except for a few particulars, like no sex, gifts, assistance to each other, or domestic chores).
Anything you two own as a married couple continues to be owned by you both, such as a vacation home, primary home, savings and checking accounts, and investments. This joint ownership extends to military spouse benefits.
Across the uniformed services, divorce and separation are held at arm’s length as civil matters, with officers generally keeping a respectful distance. Just as you would not turn to your civilian boss for emotional or legal support about your private business, neither should your spouse think of turning to her commander to try to intervene to strip you of benefits.
The military entitlements you received because your wife serves in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines or Air Force are tangible, valuable benefits you “earned” by your intangible support of your spouse. You (and any children the two of you have) retain those benefits through separation and even through divorce. Her commanding officers know this, even if she does not.
Benefits of Separation
Some of the many benefits of separating from your spouse if your marriage is facing difficulties is the chance to clear your head, search your soul, and focus on yourself. If you are struggling financially, you will have a harder time doing all that. You may well decide during a separation that you want to repair the marriage and return to one another.
But what if you don’t have time to develop a plan to do that if you are pressed to find childcare, scrape together money for minimal groceries, and pay rent on an off-base apartment? By retaining military spouse benefits, you have a little breathing (and thinking) room that may help you find solutions.
A common tactic in a difficult separation is for the military member to threaten to take away, or to actually confiscate, the family member’s military ID card. According to the experts at The Balance, the cards are not the property of the spouse to issue or withhold. It is Congress, not the military and certainly not your wife, who determines who gets military IDs, and you are entitled to one as a spouse of a service member.
If your distraught service member spouse talks about taking your ID (which would prevent you from enjoying many of the entitlements outlined above), you can gently point out that she could be charged with larceny under Article 121 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). She cannot turn to a base commander or other superior for backup on this, either. Hold onto your ID card!
What if You’re the Military Servicemember?
This entire piece has been written to reflect the possibility that you are the civilian and your wife is the service member. If the reverse is true, you take on the responsibility of adhering to the same Uniform Code of Military Justice; do not try to take away or limit her access to military spouse benefits.
In addition to that cautionary note, remember the power of Article 134 of the UCMJ, which makes adultery a military offense.
If you are separated from your wife and you are still a service member, you are governed by the code of conduct that makes adultery (sex with someone not your wife) a potential criminal liability. It is an ambiguous area, says the U.S. Army, and few service members may ever be prosecuted for dating while separated, but you expose yourself to unnecessary risk by ignoring the Code.
Call The Military Divorce Lawyers for Men
With a call to The Firm For Men at 757-383-9184, or when you contact us online, you can reach a Virginia family law attorney who knows about military divorce. Stop by our offices if you are in the Virginia Beach area. We are always happy to serve those who serve.