Posted by Kenny Douglass, Digital Content Producer - bio | email
The health of the marriages in our military has serious implications for our national security with a direct effect on performance and retention.
The services are making heavy investments of time and money into counseling, programs and couples retreats. An effort, in part, to turn around a divorce rate that's been gradually climbing for years.
Combat and carnage, long deployments abroad and long hours on base. The stress, many spouses say, is why so many military marriages are casualties of military life.
"You don't realize it until you're in the midst of it," says a wife to a Marine. "They're sick of doing it by themselves."
But evidence that the demands of a military career, drive up divorce is actually sparse 10 years of data from every person in the armed services points to the opposite. For instance, the longer the deployment, the greater the benefit to the marriage.
Instead, the Rand Report, published in 2007 and commissioned by the Department of Defense, suggests that a potential source of weaker wedlocks comes from recruiting within higher risk populations in terms of factors like age and then inadvertently incentivizing saying their 'I do's.'
"You buy a mustang, you get married, you have a kid and you rent an apartment," says Lauren Szymczak. "Then you go to another duty station, get divorced and do it again."
The Department of Defense has no comment on the reports conclusion, stating that they only track divorce numbers, no reasons.
Marrying age is a known factor in civilian divorces in the services. The military wives we spoke with tell us the norm for a first marriage is late teens, early 20's.
The research agrees. Service members tend to marry younger and have children sooner than their civilian counterparts.
But why the rush? Some marry for love, others, wives say, to have someone waiting after a long deployment or because of a now or never military mindset.
"They're very fast driven, you get something in front of them and they just shoot for it," says the wife of a Marine.
But a big reason families tell us are the benefits.
"If they were to say it wasn't about the money they'd be lying," says the Marine's wife.
And the incentives that the research also identified.
"It's a huge role," says Szymczak. "Massive. I would say about 8-% of the people who get married young get married to get out of the barracks."
Single-life barracks, spouses say, is dramatically different than life in married housing. Wed service members are allowed to move off base and receive a range of about $1,000 to $4,000 per month in housing allowance depending on pay grade, dependents and local cost-of-living. Plus subsidized meals and health care for their spouse.
"With out military service members, they've got a paycheck coming in and they're not necessarily financially connected to anyone else," says Melissa Slater. "They have a little more freedom to make that decision on their own."
So while incentives may encourage some service members to marry faster, spouses say they can also be the motive behind military marriages designed to be temporary as a business deal for benefits.
"They know they're not marrying for love," says Szymczak. "They say, 'Hey you want to get married? Let's just split the money!'"
Casually called a contract marriage, you can find dozens of postings online. Ads soliciting for a spouse to live with or not till divorce do you part.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps all say they take contract marriage cases seriously. Defrauding the federal government this way ranges in punishment from a letter of reprimand to trial in a military court. Yet military family members claim contract marriages and multiple contract marriages are all too common.
"They put it online because they know nothing will happen to them and that's for a fact," says Szymczak.
Marriage support programs are the military's battle plan for healthier homes and better decision-making.
From financial planning, to classes like 'How to Avoid Marrying a Jerk."
"Just because they may be high-risk to begin with doesn't mean you can't provide them with the tools and resources to overcome that and make it a positive marriage," says Rhonda Tomlinson.
Family Readiness Officers and Military Chaplains say the challenge is getting service members and their spouses in the chairs.
"When you enlisted, you stood up and raised your right hand and you promised to serve your country," says Chaplain Mark Brooks. "When you get married you stand up and you promised to be committed to one another. We uphold one, the other one deserves to be upheld also."
The Air Force has had seven trials over contract marriage fraud in the past five years, but the other branches tell us they do not track the number of marriage fraud cases.
Between 2011 and 2012, the military divorce rate did dip slightly, but officials say they're hoping it's a sign that the benefits on their marriage programs are starting to take effect.