chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
December 03, 2020

Getting Married

Marriage may be a private bond between two people, but it is also an important social and legal institution. Below we look at some of the requirements for getting married and how military service impacts marriage. The following questions and answers should provide you some guidance on these issues.

Does military service impact a marriage?

Yes—in many ways. From getting married, to spousal support upon a servicemember's death, to issues during a divorce, military service can have lasting affects on your marriage. Deployment and other military service requirements can obviously impact the time a servicemember can spend with his or her family. Military service can also impact whether families live in the same state, or even the same country.

What is marriage?

Marriage is a private bond between two people, but it is also an important social and legal institution. Most states define marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman to become husband and wife.

What are the legal requirements for getting married?

The requirements are simple, although they vary from state to state. In general, there are three main requirements:

  1. A man and a woman wishing to marry must obtain a license in the state in which they wish to be married, usually from a county clerk, a city clerk, or a clerk of the court. Usually they must pay a small fee for the license.
  2. Parties who wish to marry must have the capacity to do so. This means that neither can be married to someone else, the parties must be of a certain age, and both must understand that they are being married and what it means to be married. If, because of drunkenness, mental illness, or some other problem, one of the parties lacks capacity, the marriage may not be valid.
  3. A few states require the couple to have blood tests for venereal disease before the license is issued, although most states do not. In states that require a blood test, some will not issue a license if one or both of the parties have venereal disease, while others will allow the marriage if the couple knows the disease is present. In a few states, a couple must show proof of immunity from or vaccination for certain diseases, or proof that they have completed a general physical examination.

My wife's next assignment is in Florida. We were just married in Texas. Will our marriage be recognized in Florida?

Probably yes. Generally, so long as the marriage is recognized in the state where it occurred (meaning it meets the legal requirements of that state), it will be recognized by the military and in the rest of the states. There is a very limited exception that applies when the marriage violates public policy of the state (likely when the marriage involves same-sex partners or related individuals).

Can servicemembers marry foreign citizens while overseas? Will this be recognized back home and by the military?

Servicemembers who wish to marry foreign citizens while overseas are generally free to do so, assuming the marriage meets all the requirements of the country where the marriage occurs. Some branches require servicemembers make formal requests to their Commanding Officers before proceeding with a foreign marriage. Additionally, it is important to understand how marrying a foreign citizen may impact your security clearance. In certain cases, any ties you may have to a foreign country, including being married to a foreign national, will be explored and scrutinized before you are granted/allowed the continuation of a clearance.

Will my foreign-born spouse be allowed to come back to the U.S. with me?

It is important to realize that there is no automatic immigration admission for your spouse. If you are a servicemember marrying a foreign citizen overseas, there is a very good chance your new spouse will not be able to immediately come back to the U.S. with you. In most cases, when stationed overseas, the biggest factor affecting whether your spouse can return with you is whether you filed out the correct forms with your command and the United States Embassy or United States Customs and Immigration Services with enough advance time.

What impact does getting married have on a servicemember's benefits?

A servicemember's spouse is called a dependent and makes the servicemember eligible to receive an increased basic allowance for housing (BAH), if the servicemember does not already have other dependents (for example, children). The spouse should be eligible to receive military healthcare benefits and access to on-post services such as tax-free shopping, free tax preparation services, veterinary care, and free legal assistance. Additionally, if the servicemember acquires step-children because of the marriage, those step-children may also be eligible to receive military healthcare benefits. If both a husband and wife are in the military, there may actually be a decrease in the combined allowances and benefits.

The Family Separation Allowance is an additional financial benefit to being married as compared to "dating." A family becomes eligible for the allowance if a servicemember is separated because of work from his or her spouse for thirty days or more. Additionally, when a male servicemember's wife has a baby, the male servicemember is allowed to take up to 10 days of paternity leave. This benefit is not available to nonmarried couples who have children.

Being married may also make a servicemember eligible to take advantage of other intangible benefits such as permission to live in on-base housing, emergency leave benefits to care for a sick spouse that may not be available to care for a sick girlfriend or boyfriend, moving expense coverage, and other benefits that may be triggered upon the death of the servicemember.

Being married to a servicemember may also affect the nonservicemember spouse's state income tax residency requirements, and may provide the spouse with certain legal protections under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

What if we live together for a while but don't get married? Does the military recognize common-law marriage?

First – let's define common-law marriage. In times past, particularly in the frontier days, it was common for states to consider a woman and man married if they lived together for a certain length of time, had sexual intercourse, and held themselves out as husband and wife, even if they never went through a marriage ceremony.

Today, only a few states recognize common-law marriages. In those states, in order for a common-law marriage to be legal, the partners must clearly represent themselves to others as husband and wife; merely living together is not sufficient to constitute a marriage. A state that does not recognize common-law marriage may nevertheless honor it if the parties lived in a state that does recognize common law marriage and the parties met the requirements while living in that state.

In the military's view, a common-law marriage is considered an "informal marriage." Despite this title, the military generally recognizes a common-law marriage as valid if it is acknowledged as a valid marriage in the state where it occurred.