It’s often said that military service takes a heavy toll on marriages. Yet statistics show the military divorce rate is not much different than the divorce rate among civilian couples. Unless you are a woman in the armed services — female servicemembers have a markedly higher divorce rate.
Why are military marriages more likely to end in divorce if the woman wears the uniform? We look at some of the theories and some of the challenges military women face in marriage and divorce.
Female servicemembers have a higher divorce rate
It’s difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison of military and civilian divorce. But speaking in generalities, the civilian divorce rate is approximately 3% and the overall divorce rate among military personnel also hovers around 3%. Military service does not increase the likelihood of divorce, per se, though certain aspects of military life do correlate with marital breakdowns: e.g., combat trauma, long deployments, and the transition to civilian life.
But when the servicemember in the marriage is female, the divorce rate is more than double. In 2018, 6.3% of women in the U.S. armed forces got divorced compared to 2.6% of men. Why the huge disparity? There is much speculation, though few concrete answers:
- Be all that you can be? More women are pursuing military careers and serving in active duty and even combat roles. Civilian husbands may be less willing to put up with the sacrifices on the home front that civilian wives have made forever. The divorce rate is highest among female enlisted soldiers (8 percent).
- She don’t take no mess? Military service teaches you to have confidence in yourself and stand your ground. After withstanding an overbearing drill sergeant and holding her own in the male-dominated command structure, a female soldier is less likely to be submissive to her civilian husband. Without the traditional “man of the house” dynamic, there may be more tension in the marriage if the wife is the one wearing the fatigues.
- Husbands are less faithful? Statistically speaking, married men are more likely to cheat than married women. Thus, infidelity may be more prevalent in marriages where the wife is a servicemember than vice versa. If the wife is deployed for weeks or months at a time, the husband may be more likely to stray, which is a primary driver of divorce.
- Military women lack the right support? The U.S. military is pro-marriage and pro-family, providing many support services for military couples. However, marital counseling and programs like Strong Bonds are geared toward civilian wives and military husbands. Female servicemembers may not be able to relate, yearning for resources that reflect their realities.
- She’s not the marrying type? Military service attracts people with certain traits and values. Those same traits that make military men good husbands and soldiers may translate differently for women. Female servicemembers with a strong independent streak, for example, may find less validation in traditional marriage than their civilian counterparts.
The answer is likely some combination of all the above. It deserves further study so that women in the military are fully supported in both aspects of their lives.
Find a lawyer who understands military culture and military law
Servicewomen who are considering divorce, or who have been served with divorce papers, should seek an attorney who is versed in the unique considerations of military divorce. For example, military personnel are protected from “sneak attack” divorce filings or child custody petitions while they are deployed away from home. Mothers traditionally have an edge in custody proceedings, especially custody of younger children. But military service can be a negative if the judge perceives the servicewoman as detached from her motherly instincts or gives Dad undue praise for being the primary caregiver during Mom’s deployment. Your attorney needs to know how to protect your property rights and parental rights, and how to cast your military service as a positive.