Military Divorce Rates Aren’t as High as You Might Think


The Pentagon released it’s annual updated military divorce rate statistics to me yesterday. In 2012, according to the report, 3.5 percent of those across the entire military who were married at the beginning of the year fiscal year divorced by the end of it.

3.5 percent.

This number always surprises me because it’s, well, not that high. Don’t get me wrong — in my view any divorce is one divorce too many. But this 3.5 percent, down from 3.7 percent in 2011, is not the scary statistic I expect to see. In fact, that rate is a little lower than the civilian population (or at least as far as can be guessed — the civilian rate is not calculated the same way and doesn’t include every state).

I expect it to be higher because I always hear that SO many military marriages end in divorce. I am always told that we are all falling apart at the seams, that military marriage and infidelity go hand-in-hand, that of COURSE we are going to get divorced after all that war. As if failure is a forgone conclusion.

3.5 percent.

Jacey, who in addition to being our fabulous editor-in-chief has written books about and conducts classes on military marriage support, says the reason everyone thinks military marriages are constantly ending is because of their own perceptions. If you are having challenges in your marriage, she said, all you see around you are people who are feeling the same.

And it doesn’t help that statistics are thrown around willy-nilly. How often have we heard that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce? But that shocking statistic is far from true. 

Of course, 3.5 percent doesn’t tell the whole story. Enlisted female soldiers, for example, sport a rate that is triple — triple! — that of their male counterparts at 9.4 percent. And the average divorce rate for all females across all services is 7.8 percent, showing that being a female servicemember comes with a lot more home stress than being a male one.

And 3.5 percent IS a full percentage point higher than the overall divorce rate in fiscal 2001, before American entered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, before serivcemembers were oh-so-stressed.

But as Benjamin Karney, a researcher with UCLA and the Rand Corp., points out, the rate stays fairly low thanks to our overall resilience. He theorizes that we are more likely to stay married even in the face of stress thanks to our overall more traditional belief system, a feeling of duty and the pay raises that come from being married in the service.

Are you surprised that the rate is only 3.5 percent – or did you expect it to be lower?

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of’s spouse and family blog A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.

18 Comments on "Military Divorce Rates Aren’t as High as You Might Think"

  1. I'm guessing they didn't count in the Security Forces Divorce Rates… I've seen nothing but divorces in This career Field.. Thank goodness Divorce is not an option for my husband and I… I love my Airman!!! through the good and the BAD!!!

  2. 3.5% chance of getting divorced in a given year. Doing the math:
    83% Marriages will survive five years of service.
    70% of marriages will last 10 years of service.
    49% will last 20 years.
    I want to note that this assumes a constant rate of divorce (ignoring the 7 year itch and the first 3 year honeymoon and so on).

    Now, I suspect, that a lot of those 3.5% are failed marriages that didn't survive a year. I am shocked at how many of those I see. Based on the numbers, it seems reasonable to say that the military is not any more lethal to marriages than civilian life. This does not take into account variation among the branches or inside the branches.

    • Jacey Eckhart | January 23, 2013 at 4:01 pm |

      Thanks for the math! Please note that divorce statistics say that as you get older, the divorce rate decreases over time. Also, first marriages have only a 40% chance of divorce. Gives a person cause to hope.

      • I don't have real numbers, but I suspect 50% of marriages started at mobilization sites (immediately pre-deployment) end immediately post deployment. I am a JAG and I see a lot of those unfortunately. They get married as he/she is heading out the door, have an argument during his/her leave, and then the Soldier is asking me about an "annulment" (never happens) during his/her demobilization. I see similar things for first cruise or first unaccompanied OCONUS tour.

  3. While I have seen the occasional, and I mean one or two in the past 20 years, divorce of a couple who were married over 10 years, the ones I do see are indeed those of young soldiers who married for all the wrong reasons, very quickly. One in particular comes to mind right now. They met in AIT, got married a week after graduation, he deployed, came home for 6 months, but she was in one state, he was in another. She moved herself to that state, spent less then a month together, he deployed for a year and while the red flags were always there (physical abuse by both sides), they ultimately are on the road to divorce. Making it worse, she's pregnant and he wants nothing to do with it. Sad situation.

  4. Once upon a time, junior enlisted needed their officer's permission to marry. Now, I am hesitant to go back to the bad old days of insane paternalism, but perhaps the command should mandate some steps before allowing soldiers to marry and/or before allowing them to collect dependent BAH and Sep pay. I want to disincentive soldiers rushing into marriage to move off post and collect more money.

  5. LOL it's not higher because a lot of the unemployed spouses can't afford to loose the benefits, health care, education and pension. I've literally heard "I hate his guts, I cheat on him, but I'm not filing for divorce until I finish using his GI bill and we hit 10 years so I can get his pension:

  6. Guest your comments are a TRUE picture of the VULTURES, such as yourself, that prevey the military of today…..The I'ism Me'is attitude that is nothoig less tha disgusting. Te only going going for you is found beteen your upper legs….sic sic sic.

    • LOL steve I work full time, have my own benefits, and bring home more money then my officer husband, I assure you I am not a vulture and am more then capable of taking care of myself. I married my husband because I CHOSE to, I didn't do it for survival like some of the ones you see.

  7. From personal experience as an individual, as a family, as a mother and wife of three family members who have done counseling as individuals, I can say with all honesty, none of it has made one iota of a difference. But, this is my opinion, and for those who feel it helps, great, but in the end it is going to be the couple (in this situation) who have to be willing to grow within the marriage to make it work. Of course if we are talking about physical abuse, sexual abuse, cheating, those are, to me, immediate grounds for divorce.

  8. Tamika Breck | January 30, 2013 at 4:00 pm |

    I am doing a paper on recruiting duty and marriage. Where can I fing the statistics on the divorce rate during this assignment?

  9. Cheating may be an addictive behavior that is fueled by severe PTS. However, it could also be that the cheater is a psychopath or sociopath and no counseling will ever change them. Unless they seek professional diagnosis, you'll never know. The hardest part is knowing that PTS is real, the Marine Corps trained my Marine on the subject, and yet he refuses to acknowledge his abnormal behavior or get treatment. Instead, he opts for isolation, detachment and lives 45 miles away from me on the other end of base. Our marriage is hanging by a thread. But we still love and care for each other, so there is hope, however small. Don't assume that cheating will be "immediate grounds for divorce" unless you experience it yourself (God forbid) and then decide. I've certainly put boundaries in place, but have chosen to see the good in my husband and patiently work toward helping him control his behavior. I'm proud of my veteran and the impossible work he and his fellow Marines do every day to protect our freedom. This is why I stay with him. Duty, honor, commitment and unconditional love.

    • OR.. that most men crave constant variety of sexual partners even if they are deeply in love with a woman.

  10. I definitely don't agree with pre-marital counseling being mandatory for military personnel, but then, I am not a big proponent of any type of counseling. Marriage is about compromise, growth and respect. Bottom line if one or both parties are not willing to do that, the marriage will fail.

  11. Becca in Alaska | January 25, 2013 at 4:34 pm |

    Why are you against counseling of any type? Sometimes a neutral party, someone who is trained, can help you work through things, sometimes you can't do it alone.

  12. Amy_Bushatz | March 25, 2013 at 7:03 am |

    You're right — it doesnt take in account those who have left the military. And unfortunately there are no numbers that really section those folks out. When they leave the military they are absorbed into the stat tracked (poorly) by the CDC. Even the VA doesn't track divorces.

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