Military Marriages: For Love or Money?


I recently read an article on our Big Daddy site about Marines perpetuating fraud by entering into sham marriages in order to collect BAH.

Military officials are charging three California-based Marine corporals with fraud and larceny for entering in a pair of sham marriages to collect housing funding, officials said.

The military alleges that a lesbian couple — one a Marine, the other a civilian — decided to live together off base and wanted to collect the $1,200 housing benefit granted to married Marines.

The female Marine found a male Marine willing to get married, allowing them to collect the housing benefit, and the civilian woman also eventually married a Marine and collected funds, 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley, a spokeswoman at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, said Saturday.

Putting this particular story aside, what struck me as I read the comments, and comments elsewhere on this topic, was that many people alluded to the fact that this is a common occurrence. I’m sure this does happen, and has always happened, but is it really that widespread? There’s no way to know just how often this occurs. I imagine it’s hard to prove most of these cases and I doubt the military wastes already-scarce resources to track whether marriages are entered into simply to collect government funds and other benefits. In this case, I’m not sure how the Marine Corps would be able to prove fraud if, as it states in the story, the couple had not admitted it. After all, no matter the intentions, they were all legally married.

People get married for all sorts of reasons, but I have to wonder if collecting BAH and other benefits are actually worth marrying someone you don’t love or, apparently, live with? It seems to me that this could be a rather complicated undertaking which isn’t worth the trouble. Taking the example above, what happens when one of the two pairs receives PCS orders? What happens when one of the male Marines meets someone they might want to live with or marry? What happens with taxes and accounts and leases and mail and healthcare and ID cards and all the other practical considerations that go into building a life together, real or fake?

Marriage is challenging enough when you enter into it with pure and noble intentions and marry someone you actually want to live with….

Now, what really cracked me up was this little nugget in the comment section:

One of the oldest tricks on the books!. This has been going on since the start of military spouse pay. These are not the only ones and if the military really checked there are thousands upon thousands of shame Marriages in all of the branches.Hey if they checked they could save billions!

I have never received “military spouse pay.” In fact, I wasn’t aware it existed, but I’m owed years and years of back pay. Does anyone know where I go to collect it?

About the Author


Andi is married to an active-duty soldier and is the founder and former editor of SpouseBUZZ.

She is the founder of the Annual MilBlog Conference. The MilBlog Conference is the premiere event of the year for military bloggers. President George W. Bush, U.S. Representative Adam Smith, GEN David Petraeus, LTG Mike Oates, LTG William Caldwell, RADM Mark Fox, MG Kevin Bergner, MG David Hogg and The Honorable Pete Geren have addressed previous conferences.

While living in Washington, DC, Andi was the Ambassador to Walter Reed Army Medical Center for Sew Much Comfort, a non-profit organization which makes and delivers, free of charge, special adaptive clothing for wounded service members. Andi has worked with several non-profits to help our wounded heroes and their families. She finds that work to be the most rewarding and meaningful of all.

Andi strives to find humor in the good, bad and ugly of life and is a firm believer that laughter has the ability to cure most ills.

49 Comments on "Military Marriages: For Love or Money?"

  1. I'm with you, where do I go to collect :)? I see a nice vacation in my future! LOL!

  2. Military Spouse Pay? What a nice twist on words…BAH and BAS is about it. There is no way any service is going to pay someone to be married otherwise, these scams would be extremely common.

    • …"There is no way any service is going to pay someone to be married…"

      That is exactly what the military is doing. If you are married you get paid more; that's all there is to it.

  3. I have never heard of people marrying acquaintances for extra pay, but I have heard of people hurrying up and marrying before an impending deployment so they can get separation pay and the other benefits for that year. I wish more people would slow down and think some of that stuff through before they dive in — if you've only been together a few months, is it worth some money to potentially marry the wrong person? — but if they were already dating and planning to get married anyway…

  4. My husband (Air Force) and I got married before BMT instead of after for the benefits (insurance, and the ability to live off base together mostly), but we’d been together for 7 years.

    Also they check for “Sham Marriages” the same way they check for “Green Card Marriages”

    • Nomadgirl70 | July 21, 2011 at 10:48 pm |

      How do they check for sham marriages? lol My husband and I were friends for a few months and got married about 6 weeks after 'getting together'. I am sure 99% of them thought we wouldn't last, but, here we are 16 years later. lol (I have to say out of the 5 couples who got married in that 2/3 month time frame we are the only ones still married.) So, just wondering how they can actually check something like that.

      • peopleRclueless | November 13, 2011 at 1:58 am |

        The bottom line is that the military can "check" all they want to but legally they can't do anything unless the law was broken. Period. Marrying for "money" is legal, and always has been. As stated elsewhere, marrying just for the BAH isn't worth it for *most* service members, but college educated service members and officers know that there are some large benefits if you know how to pick through the regs. Everything from dodging deployments (read the regs and you'll be impressed with yourself after you do), to dodging military schools (e.g. recruiting, drill sgt., etc..) can be more easily side stepped if you have a spouse to help you. A lot of you people here aren't seeing the HUGE hidden advantages because you're too focused on the lame reasons a Jr. Enlisted person with only a high school diploma would engage in a sham marriage. You have to think about why a LTC, CPT or MSG might engage in one… then you'll get a clue. Think more about "business relationships" as opposed to "getting over".

        You have officers getting married, keeping the BAH and getting paid by their sham spouse an amount for medical/dental… not a bad deal if the woman has had problems every time she's had a child, etc.. sometimes sham medical might be worth several hundred dollars in one iteration of treatment alone. Sham stuff goes on all the time- people have gotten married.. have had their "spouse" call the police and falsely claim that an episode of "abuse" just transpired, whereby effectively disqualifying the service member from certain military schools. Recruiting is a school that people with great cushy jobs try to avoid like the plague (grunts generally think it's great)… service members that are well read find ways to avoid that school on a regular basis. Which equates to a lot of money (over $250,000) and time (over 3 years) saved if the soldier has been studying to go to anesthesia school (most who administer anesthetics for surg. are not physicians), law school, Pharmacy, or a host of other professional schools.

        If a soldier getting shipped to Korea from a base in LA gets married, that means he can clear $2000 per month, separation pay, and COLA, all because he married a woman that had to be married in order to sham out on a few things a HER job, her insurance policies, etc..

        You folks think like high schoolers and the wool is still clinging to your eye ;)

        The number of sham marriages are many- the military most often suspects the wrong demographic.

        • Reality Check | February 25, 2013 at 11:50 pm |

          Bingo. Thank you peopleRclueless, its good to see someone who sees through both the BS and the rosy-colored glasses!

  5. I have heard of people thinking that "Soldiers get paid more for being married" and the spouse believing that that additional "pay" (I'm assuming they mean the additional BAH at the "with dependents" rate) somehow belongs to them individually. I quickly looked at "BAH with" and "BAH without" chart and it looks like the difference is a few hundred dollars per month. I'm not aware of it increasing based on the sheer number of dependent, either. Large families are sometimes eligible for additional BAS, but surely it isn't enough to make it worth running a scam, I hope.

    I hate to see these "facts" in articles because now folks who read it are going to be thinking that service members get paid $1,200 a month extra for being married. I'm not familiar with how things are done in the Marines. Do unmarried Marines living off-post not collect BAH at all?

    • Nomadgirl70 | July 21, 2011 at 10:51 pm |

      I would assume it is the same as in the army, if they are single and permitted to live off base then they would collect BAH at the without dependents rate. If they are keeping a place off post and required to keep a barracks room then no, they would not collect BAH.

    • Some "facts":

      BAS is $325 and BAH is around $1100. Base pay for an E4, the highest paid lower enlisted soldier is $2014. That work out to over 141% increase in pay. (Note: BAS and BAH vary by post but, are adjusted based on the local costs of living)

      If you are in the armed services you get paid to be married, that is all there is to it.

    • Reality Check | February 25, 2013 at 11:53 pm |

      In many places you have to be an E-6 to be permitted to live off post as a single troop – thus receiving BAH. That's where the incentive comes from.

      It can take 5 – 10 years to make E-6 depending on your job (and that's just Army, other branches promote slower).

      I won't repeat myself, so refer to my above post to see how this all fits in.

  6. I completely agree with Sara. I think few soldiers have completely sham marriages. However, MANY young soldiers rush into marriage because they are away from family and lonely, scared to pcs or deploy soon, or just want their own space to be with their girlfriend. When one of these factors already exists, the risk factors for jumping into a marriage disaster are huge. I personally know a soldier who was young, stationed far away from home, and having problems fitting in with the “clickiness” in his unit. He met a girl through a cousin back home, saw her in person once, chatted online for 3 months, and thought he was hopelessly in love enough to marry her. She moved to where he was. He realized he made a mistake and asked for a divorce 7 months later. They were left with a divorce that lasted over a year. Why? It turns out she was an immigrant who was applying for a green card. -And guess what? She got it.

    I really think we should spend some time educating and mentoring our young soldiers on the risks of marrying too soon. We’d probably save a lot more money on prevention, compared to the amount we spend on BAH, couples therapy, and divorce law.

    • Reality Check | February 25, 2013 at 11:55 pm |

      I'm glad that's what you think! That's such an informed opinion!

      How long have you been in the military? How many junior troops have you worked with? How many have you led?

      It happens all the time, because the incentive is there. If you want to fix this system, make it mandatory for E-5 and below to live on post – regardless of marital status.

  7. I am glad you posted this. I have heard of it quite a bit and its sad. It also adds to the high divorce rate of soldiers.

  8. I know of a situation where a lesbian soldier married another active dutysoldier so she could live off post w her pregnant? girlfriend. But then she didnt have enough $ to provide them a place to live so they were living in on post housing w a for real married couple & got thrown out. The female soldier had to go live in the barracks, even tho she wasnt supposed to cause she was married. And, to add to the drama, she was supposedly trying to get a divorce but couldnt get her 'husband; to answer her phone calls!! O the drama!!

  9. spouse pay? Sweet! Who do I talk to to get that started? Like you said, I'm sure there are some out there but widespread? I doubt it.

    Another misconception that people seem to have is that our pay goes up with each child we have. Not quite folks.

  10. functional art | July 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm |

    A PCS or two ago Lawyerguy was involved in the prosecution of several Airmen who had a combination greencard/BAH scam going on. They would arrange for a Russian "mail order bride" who also had no interest in being married, she just wanted to come to the US. The men were paid a fee by the girls, and then could collect the higher BAH and separation pay (people from that base deployed constantly.) The women received a green card and access to Tricare; she was responsible for her own job and housing.

    The part that bothered me the most was not the fraud, it was that these Airmen willingly would let people they did not know at all have dependant IDs. These men threw away their careers and were charged with some very serious crimes for a comparatively insubstantial amount of money.

  11. they are called contract marrages a GI marries some chick to live off post, & when he ETSs they devorce, hell ite been going on 30 yrs its pure fraud the people that do it shouls go to jail

  12. You forgot to mention the one where we marry our soldiers for commissary privileges…But yeah, I take spouse pay :))

  13. Ex-soldier, spouse | July 21, 2011 at 10:37 pm |

    Our military marry to be able to live off post and receive money to do so. This will pay rent, but gives them the freedom to get out of the barracks. When I first went to my first duty station, I was approched by a few soldiers to do a "contract marriage" and I refused. I wasn't looking to get married and did not have the interest in living off base. That was in 1987. So, yes, it has been going on for quite a while. I did eventually meet and marry another soldier, not in my unit, and had 2 beautiful kids and 9 years of marriage before another woman approched him while he was TDY and wanted his E-7 lifestyle. He left me and the kids for her, but that is another story. She married him for his rank and the money he made so that he could take care of her and her 2 kids.

    • Richard Gere | July 23, 2011 at 5:53 pm |

      I’m sorry for your ex-soldier experience and am happy that you have moved on with your life. Marrying for benefits is a common theme…military members pursuing relationships to get out of the barracks and women/men pursuing military members simply to gain access to what they perceive is a better lifestyle. The disparity created between married and unmarried members is key to this whole mess and the DoD should consider changing their policies (benefit packages) to reduce the likelihood of “contract marriages”.

  14. DespicableMe | July 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm |

    These comments make me sad. Mostly because of how marriage is being devalued. iI's not like these are great sums of money. I grew up relatively poor and $1200/month wouldn't have made me bat an eyelash. Where do they find people willing to do this. I guess that mostly younger soldiers would be doing this sort of thing and E7 and below pay is not that much. Wouldn't be worth it for me.

  15. Most of the contract marriages occur in places with a higher BAH rate, i.e Ft Meade, MD. The lower enlisted soldiers do it for the ability to live off-post more than for the money. They are not awarded the freedom and privacy living in the barracks that they receive living off-post. Our higher ranks, enlisted and officer, due it more for the money. The average rent for a 3-bedroom townhouse around Ft Meade, MD is about 1400-1600 plus 100-300 in electricity depending on the area lived in. The BAH for the average E6 is $2127 with dependents, so the higher ranks would be more tempted to due it for the money.

    • Autumnsraine | July 23, 2011 at 5:55 pm |

      I live at Fort Meade, i would love to find a 3 bedroom house or townhome for a mere $1400-1600. It doesn't exist unless you move to pioneer city where even the cops don't venture out after dark. There are NO rentals for this price in Odenton,Piney Orchard, Jessup, Columbia, Severn, or anyplace around here for that low amount.
      My hubby is stationed at Andrews AFB, in the Metro DC area, and you are right about an E6 having to pay $2127 for rent. But, you also failed to mention that beginning this year, BAH rates went down for Metro DC area, and went up for Ft. Meade. (What does that say about the cost of living in a suburb?) Anyhoo, Rent for this area has sky rocketed due to BRAC and over inflated rents in this area. If you live on post, ALL of the money goes to PICERNE. You are not making anything. And, some of the housing on base, you have to pay electricity as well!!!

      • Autumnsraine | July 23, 2011 at 6:02 pm |

        I also forgot to add, that when I first married my hubby, we were not allowed to live on base because we did not have children. Now here at Fort Meade, I see single soldiers living together, married people with no children, because Picerne allows it. 2 people living in a 2-3 bedroom home. I think people also need to look at the middle men, the privatized housing authorities who want the bottom line, the BAH. There is more shady dealings going on here than contract marriages, I would bet!!

  16. Debra Paul | July 23, 2011 at 3:48 pm |

    I am not in the military, but I do feel that people whom believe in doing this is so wrong. I was to marry a military guy not too long ago. He made promises and than I found out just whom he was really about. He was trying to get my funds I get from the government. He was doing the scamming I wasn't I fell for the guy. We had been chatting for a year online and he was about to come out for us to be married within 6 months. It about killed me when I found out what he was all about. The only way I knew was by checking him out with places here in my town and found out a lot of service does this an to be careful because it is well known that this is done to the us that are not in the service.
    Good luck for the ones that are truthful and really do believe in love and not scammed to hurt someone.

  17. Richard Gere | July 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm |

    Getting married to gain access to military benefits is old news…perhaps we should eliminate all the perks/benefits of marriage and then we’d find out who really loves who. My guess is that a majority of military members would never marry if they did not receive the wealth of benefits currently on the table.
    Remember, “if the Marines/Army/AirForce/Navy wanted you to have a wife, one would be issued”. Time to cut the umbilical cord and the crazy benefits – there’s a way to save money.

    • I agree – but think of what that would do to retention! The military would have to start paying competitive wages, encouraging education, and create a work and life environment that isn't sheer hell!

      I notice how many dislikes your comment received by the doubtless overweight 'wives' on this forum. The Depend-a-potamuses don't want to lose their cash cow!

  18. disgruntled | July 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm |

    I know of a young man who is "married" so his wife has insurance and he gets the BAH. He is currently in the Coast Guard but will be getting out soon. Sure they will divorce is it comes to his paying for her insurance. I wish he would be found out but cannot report him.

  19. Now, I think I know why this military man married me. We were married for two years and never spent one day together because he was busy with the military. I was trying to be understanding with his career and then when he was about to retire, I got divorce papers. I did not even know about this spouse or housing pay. Its worth looking in too. Thks

  20. My soon to be ex husband married me right before he deployed, had me and my two kids move so he could get a higher bah rate and then didn’t help with any of the bills or rent even though his name is also on all the bills and lease. It all went to his numerous girls friends. I went to the army with proof that he married me for the extra money and they didn’t do crap! I knew the guy for almost two years and still have dupped.

  21. Well, informed. | July 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm |

    "…I have to wonder if collecting BAH and other benefits are actually worth marrying…"

    Well Andi, here is some information about those benefits that married service members receive that their single counterparts do not. It is important to note that BAS (Basic Allowance for Subsistence) and BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) vary by post and are adjusted based on the local costs of living. So the decision to marry for those benefits will vary accordingly. For example, as EagleEye points out BAH at Ft. Meade, MD is $2127 per month, while a 3-4 bedroom apartment in the surrounding area costs much less, around $1600.

    Since I am more familiar with the pay rates and cost of living at Ft. Bragg, NC those will be the ones I use. Also, I will be using the rank of E4, the highest paid lower enlisted rank, for two reasons. The first is that typically E6's are automatically entitled to live off post and receive BAH regardless of their marital status. Second, because the topic of getting married has more to do with those service members just beginning their families and careers.

    Base pay for an E4 is $2014. At Ft. Bragg BAS is $325 and BAH is around $990; $1315 more in cash, per month. That works out to over a 60% increase in pay! And as for the suggestion that this is "not really all that much money"; I can tell you that a 30 yr. mortgage on a 3-4 bedroom house near Ft. Bragg is $600-$800 a month.

    So, at Ft. Bragg a single E4 makes $24,168 in base pay and likely lives in a run down, communal room, subject to unwarranted search at any time day or night with no kitchen and sleeps in a bunk bed, while his/her married counterpart E4 makes $39,948, lives in a private home with whatever characteristics or amenities they choose, in which they will build financial equity, and eventually own.

    Now, the $15,780 disparity in pay is just covers the cash benefit. This doesn't include health care benefits, employment opportunities and job placement services, transferable educational benefits (like the G.I Bill), shopping at the commissary, where the prices of food and household goods are subsidized, and access to on post services including libraries, gyms, swimming pools or even horse stables.

    And often social benefits are overlooked simply because they are very difficult to account for, such as the perception of maturity that being married conveys to your superiors, which can influence promotions, leniency with sick time, financial problems and extra duty. "Why not put this single soldier's pay issue off a few days while I take care of this married soldier's problem? After all he has a wife to support." "Why ask a married woman to pick up an extra shift on a weekend when a single gal could do it?"

    SemperSteen said it best, "…service members basically get rewarded for being married…"

    That is exactly right. If you are married you get incentives including higher pay, health care, privacy, personal freedom and social status. If you are single you don't. It is no different than being paid less because you are a woman or receiving fewer benefits because you are black. It's literally the definition of discrimination.

    Is it immoral to "marry for money"? Our society has mixed feelings about that. Nevertheless, financial security is one of the central qualities a person looks for in a spouse. In America, money problems have never appeared lower than the top five in reasons for divorce.

    However, what we HAVE decided, as Americans, over and over again is that discrimination is wrong. It's time for the leaders of the Armed Forces catch up with the times and start leading from the front rather than digging in their heels in the rear.


    Note: A spouse is considered a dependent, unless they are also serving in the military. Consequently the BAH rates I used in my calculations were from the "BAH with dependents" scale. This is also interesting because it means that service members are actively discouraged from marrying other service members. Sorry military spouse; you are worth $100 less per month, according to the DoD, than a civilian spouse.

  22. In my case: I married a scammed soldier (he new too much and it was not convenient for him that I know everything). In a marriage both have to be honest to take care of assets and also be a happy couple, but my soldier preferred to maintain me isolated from his friends at work and army benefits and regulations with excuses while I was working so much to provide and support to the family with separate accounts. So, he played so smart and charm like a syco path and narcissism with me that he kept: TRAVELS, SEPARATION FAMILY, BONUS, TAX FRAUD, HIS PAYCHECKS, BAH WHEN HE JOINED THE ARMY FOR 4 MONTHS AND THE LAST WAS CONTROLING THE MONEY FOR FOOD – PORN ADDICTION IN MY BACK, CHEATING, BYING EXPENSIVE PARTS FOR HIS CAR FOR A PROYECT CAR TO SHOW OFF WITH ONLINE PEOPLE EVERYTIME WE MOVED…………..Soooooooooooo whatch out ladies, you most have to know everything and take care of your assets and keep money for your movement before this type of sico path say: I’m moving out !!! and you will be left in a state is not your residence because the military do not care about this type of behavior. So, ladies !!! do not buy anything for the house, just work and save. In my case I worked, cleaned, cooked, supported the family in every aspect, I bought too much furnitures and decoration like a 5 star hotel, cloths, shoes for my daughters (not with him), guess what ? when he moved out without my knowledge I was without a job because I was supporting the soldier in his job or mission living my job to go to another state……………..I did not have any money to move all the furnitures or for food or bills………………..on post……….Army regulation: on post: for the familiy just the housing, off post: only BAH……………….it is like: ****** you Family !!

  23. I'm worried because my daughter met an army soldier who's in Iraq (supposedly) on-line 2 months ago and he's proposed to her. He's gotten leave to come into town next week to meet her and her family. They will stay in a motel until they can find an apartment together. We live in Michigan and he lives in Wisconsin and she's told him she won't leave her kids (22,19 & 17). He's fine with her living here.

  24. She says she doesn't love him but does care for him… she's been married twice before and just wants to be taken care of. He knows she's overweight and is bi-polar and is disabled with no income and it doesn't matter to him. They've only seen each other's pictures… he's handsome and she's pretty. He says she'll get $95,000.00 from the army once she's been made his beneficiary but she needs to give him $300.00 to help pay for the processing. I think it's all a scam and she's going to get terribly hurt. She's in a really bad space emotionally right now and isn't making really good decisions. My oldest granddaughter told her that she read about service men scamming women in this way and by stealing other mens identities even. This guy doesn't even have an APO for her to write to him. They only stay in contact via the internet. What do you all think…. Help! Worried mom!!!!

  25. Anybody know what the law is if a woman pretends to love a guy and marries him just to get his pay and benefits? She cleans out his bank account every month.

  26. my son married a women who been married to two other servicemen. She has been takeing money without his knowlege and sending it to a account overseas with her name and grandmothers name. Would like to know if that legal.

  27. What happened to the spouses? Did the military charge them with anything?

  28. Demetric Miles | February 8, 2015 at 7:16 pm |

    It is to read some of these comments about collecting their spouses pay. I am a service member who was married for 12 years. I have two children. I put her through college. She has a Master’s in Education. After 12 years of marriage, my ex-wife leaves me and the kids for another man who she claims to be her soul mate. I have full custody of both my children. I am now fighting a battle in court where she wants not the children, but half of my retirement pay. Where is the justice for me and my kids……..

  29. they have meal cards for barracks soldiers still. but the BAS really isnt worth marrying someone you dont love. lol. its like an extra maybe $200 a month. totally not worth it. i think this happens alot with people who dont sit down and do the math. cause if they did they'd realize its not as much as they think. lol

  30. DespicableMe | July 22, 2011 at 12:22 am |

    While I agree with you that the math doesn't add up, love is no better a reason to get married. If more people married sensibly and practically, not just because they were in love the divorce rate would greatly decrease. There are lots of reasons to marry. An equitable arrangement is just as valid a reason as love.

  31. BAS is $325 and BAH is around $1100. Base pay for an E4, the highest paid lower enlisted soldier is $2014. That work out to over 141% increase in pay. (Note: BAS and BAH vary by post but, are adjusted based on the local costs of living)

  32. "…servicemembers basically get rewarded for being married…"

    That is exactly right. If you are married you get incentives including higher pay, health care, privacy and personal freedom. If you are single you don't. It is no different than being less because you are a woman or because you are black. It's literally the definition of discrimination.

  33. Yes and they end up getting divorce right after he gets home to find that she's been cheating on him. Ha! It takes a lot to be a military spouse and it is even harder to be a spouse to someone you barely know and then poof they are on deployment. Then what?

    You are right they do know what they are doing so the consequence is theirs and theirs alone that is why there is such a high divorce rate among military couples.

  34. Sing it girlfriend, I'm glad somebody said it.

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