Will a Divorce Hurt His Military Career?

just divorced

I wish every military couple would drive straight to Happily Ever Afterville. No stops. No detours. No broken down marriages left by the side of the road.

After all we go through together, I want us to keep on going until we reach the promised land.

That’s pretty naïve. Our military divorce rate is just about the same as the civilian divorce rate. Just like civilian couples lose their way to addiction, abuse or adultery, many military couples do, too. We marry too young. We live separate lives. We reach the point of no return.

And then what happens? Is there an added cost to divorce in a military marriage? Is there a secret penalty for military members filing for divorce when it comes to the promotion board?

Last week, Tara, a military spouse, contacted SpouseBuzz seeking “the unofficial answer” about the military and divorce.  At promotion time, the military is not supposed to keep tabs on which folks are single and which ones are divorced and which ones have same sex partners and which ones are married to Our Lady of the FRG. But do they?

After her husband’s drinking led to a DUI, Tara just couldn’t see exposing her children to his addiction anymore. She wrote:

 We’ve talked about divorce a couple of times and he’s talked me out of it stating that it would ruin his career (he’s up for a promotion to E9 soon). Is it true that the army could kick him out or take away his rank? I certainly don’t want his career ruined, but I need to protect myself and my children. Any advice?

When it comes to the military and divorce, our best advice is always to go talk to a divorce attorney who has a lot of experience with military divorce. Get a therapist who can help you logically sort through all your options so that you and your partner can make the best decisions possible for yourselves and your children.

But that isn’t really what Tara asked. She wants to know if a divorce is going to keep her servicemember from getting promoted. That is a much trickier question, isn’t it?

I’ve seen some horrific divorces in the military. I’ve seen servicemembers behave shamefully to their ex-wives and children and still make the next promotion. And the next. And the next.

So my first thought is that the divorce won’t hurt the servicemember’s career. My second thought is that the uncontrollable drinking problem will. The DUI will. The year of reduced productivity that men can experience following a divorce will.

Still, I wonder:  Is divorce a normal part of American life that the military accepts and accommodates? Or are there certain segments of the military in which a divorce really is frowned upon? Are some branches less tolerant of divorce than others?

Then there is the underlying question Tara never really asks: Is that loss of a career a reason to stay together? What do you think, Readers?

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • sabrinacking

    I think it’s the wrong question. How about we start with this one: why is he drinking to the extent he got a DUI?

    • Niels Slater

      I know several service members who were senior enlisteds, got divorced and it didn’t appear to ruin their careers at all. And sone them had drinking problems as well.

      • sabrinacking

        Me too, which lead me to believe, it’s not the real issue she wants addressed. She just isn’t sure how to get there.

  • TheotherMel

    I personally think he’s trying to guilt her into staying. It is NOT going to ruin his career. The like the poster above, the real questions should be this: How come the DUI didn’t ruin his career? If ANYTHING would ruin a career, it would be a DUI and not getting a divorce. I hope he doesn’t lay that guilt trip on her … “It’s all your fault, etc.” Oh heck no!

    • Sheez

      I agree. The DUI and his drinking problem that is bad enough to run off his family….those are the career killers. It sounds like he’s trying to manipulate her.

      • sabrinacking

        I don’t know if manipulate is the right word. We aren’t there, but we know from her characterization of their marriage three things:
        1) he is acting out, as an E8 in today’s military we can almost presume several contributing factors as to the possible “why”
        2) he doesn’t want a divorce, hence the false reasoning of career killer
        3) she doesn’t want a divorce, hence the grasping at straws…if she is married to an E8 there is next to no possibility she does not know people who have been promoted post divorce, she knows it won’t hurt his career, she wants a reason to stay during this difficult time

        Marriage is hard, but the vows are: for better or worse, richer or poorer, good times and bad, in sickness and in health.

        If she was my girlfriend I would tell her, he is sick. Get him help. The DUI might be a blessing in disguise there because she can use it to approach his getting help. People self medicate for a host of reasons, not the least of which is nearing twelve years of war.

        • Sheez

          I agree with you.
          Alcoholism alone is not a deal breaker for a marriage.

          • sabrinacking

            And alcoholism doesn’t happen in a vacuum. People drink for a reason. Getting to that reason, could very well save her family. A lot of times it is easier not to address the real issue, especially in the military’s culture of silence.
            My heart is with you Tara, pretty much everyone I know is dealing with similar issues. Not that, that is any consolation..but know, you are not alone in dealing with an old soldier (insert your branch here) who is acting out. In fact, looking to the left and right of me…I think it’s the new normal.

          • Ididntstutter

            I disagree. Alcoholism is a reason for divorce. Alcoholics put their addiction and needs before their family and it’s rarely “just drinking.” I think counseling could help and that it should always be considered, but that’s not fair to the kids or to her to stay in a potentially dangerous situation that he created on his own if she has already decided counseling isn’t going to help or hasn’t helped. It’s his fault for making poor choices and for not getting help. Regardless of what he’s gone through, he still has a choice. I wish my mom would have left my dad sooner. It would have saved all of us a lot of heartache and burden. I wish he would have chosen differently, but I can’t make choices for him. It doesn’t change how much I love him; it just means he isn’t a big part of my life or my children’s lives. Now I’m in the military world and I see a lot of alcoholics. It makes me really sad, but they don’t think they have a problem and I’m just a “self-righteous” jerk for saying anything. I think it’s a big enough problem that the military should consider creating of other programs and find some way to crack down on the drinkers and the drinking culture. It’s not about “blowing off steam” or “relaxing”; it’s creating a lifelong struggle that affects everyone. I’m so tired of it.

          • Sheez

            I say this as a child of an alcoholic and a wife who takes the “for better or for worse” part very seriously.
            For me, alcoholism is not a deal breaker. YMMV

          • sabrinacking

            I meant to like, and accidentally unliked your post. My bad.

  • Kla

    If things are so bad your considering divorce, is his career REALLY the thing to be concerned about? What about your kids well being? Your own mental health?

    Or, is another conisideration spousal/child support and thats where the concern stems from? (Not trying to be snarky, its a legit concern if you have been a SAHM for years with no work experience)

  • rhunt110

    I think besides the DUI and drinking causing issues with him getting promotion (and marriage), a bigger problem for him at the rank of E-8 is that he will likely have a secret clearance that he will lose because of the drinking and that along with the drinking will have a greater impact on his promotion. The divorce is is the result of a bigger problem. The wife should be more concerned for her and her kids safety as she has already mentioned. I would think before he worries about promotion for himself, he needs to work on his issues first.

  • Olga

    If she still cares about his life and his career, the relationship isn’t over. At least it isn’t over for her. Perhaps, what they need is marriage counselling for the couple and one-on-one counselling for him (perhaps coupled with Addicts Anonymous).

  • Mrs SSG

    “Our Lady of the FRG” ….what a joke. My husband was caught having an intense affair with his unit’s FRG cow, er, I mean, leader. Supporting families… blah, blah, blah… It’s getting both of them divorces and going to ruin his career.

    • Mrs SSG
      • sabrinacking

        It is showing….multiple times.

        • Mrs SSG
    • Michele

      My spouse SSG had committed adultery with a soldier while we were overseas and received a field grade article 15… On this side of the water he engaged this same soldier and now they have a child..he’s still married to me trying to file a divorce under abandonment so the military doesn’t fing out because the punishment is harsher. She was his subordinate. He’s in Westpoint, I’ve reported it to his commanders, they keep confusing overseas with homeland. He says as long as he keeps his rank. In 5 yrs he will make E7, he says he can wait . Meantime this soldier is separating from the army so they can marry. THE ARMY IS OK WITH HIS ADULTERY WITH THE SAME SOLDIER. He has removed me from all accts. ALL THE MILITARY SAY IS GET A LAWYER…DAMN SHAME…THEY ARE A DISGRACE….

      • guest

        Divorce is a civilian matter, not military so yes, the military will tell you to get a lawyer. And pretty much unless you have pictures of them having sex, have a signed confession from both of them that they had sex (and the words with penetration involved have to be in there), or have a paternity test of this baby showing it’s his (which you can’t force him to do, only his mistress can) then there is NO way for the military to punish him for adultery. My husband has been in command several times and has tried to push harsher punishments for adultery then just article 15’s and every time has been shot down because there was no definite proof.

        There is literally nothing the military can do about this, they are not a disgrace, you need to hire a civilian lawyer as they have told you.

        If you are in the process of a divorce and the accounts were where his money goes, then he is fully within his rights to remove you from them. If they are where your employment funds were also deposited then you can have a case in court. If you have kids then he should be paying child support provided you have a court order (from a civilian court). If you are not divorced, don’t have a legal separation agreement, don’t have a legal child support agreement etc then he only needs to give you the difference between BAH and BAH dif (about 200 a month so if he pays any bills like your cell phone or utilities) since he is qualified for BAH based on rank instead of marriage.

        Get on hiring a lawyer, it’s not the militarys fault he isn’t paying you, it’s the lack of a court order…

        • TLM

          You seem to have a lot of knowledge on this subject. Any way we can pm for more info?

          Thanks for your input!

  • Donna

    I believe that if you are unhappy and that your children are witnessing an addiction, and your loyalty is for the children, then you should do what your head is telling you. The time to walk out on someone is NOT when they are suffering with the intension of getting help. Addiction, is horrible for the ones going through it as well as the ones suffering because of it. The question whether or not a service members career would be damaging in lieu of a divorce is NO, unless the member’s work performance suffers because of it. The abuse of alcohol would be the damaging part not the divorce itself. I suggest talking with legal council and/or a psychologist before pursuing anything along with seeking help for your spouse. I do believe that it is the responsibility of both parents to insure the wellbeing of their children. if one is being irresponsible, the other has tuff choices to make. I wish you well with the decisions that you are forced to make.

  • I know several service members who were senior enlisteds, got divorced and it didn’t appear to ruin their careers at all. And sone them had drinking problems as well.