Contract marriages are one of the great myths of the military that is actually a little true but we don’t like to think about it — kind of like the broom on the porch myth or the myth of block leave (I kid about that last one … sort of). You hear about it or you have a friend who has a friend that totally lived next door to someone who did that. But you never really know about it first hand.
A military contract marriage is the practice of a service member marrying someone (sometimes another service member) just to land additional military benefits. For service members the housing allowance goes up after a marriage and those who would otherwise be living in the barracks are paid to move into family housing on or off base. For a civilian spouse, he or she gets health care and commissary privileges as well as access to a variety of other military benefits like employment help. And, like all marriages both in and out of the military, if the civilian spouse is not a U.S. citizen, he or she can apply for a green card based on the marriage.
All in all marrying the military is a pretty sweet gig.
There’s some evidence to suggest that contract marriages don’t happen as often as people think they do. Still, that they happen is widely considered something of an “open secret” — we know it’s there, we just don’t talk about it.
No surprise, scam marriages are totally illegal. But that doesn’t necessarily stop anyone from becoming part of one. It also doesn’t mean that military authorities can prove they are happening. Military officials have said time and again that getting married is a “private decision” and that commanders cannot question the motives behind the marriage without cause.
And even when they do — even when the marriages appear to be a part of a larger uncovered scheme — the conviction can be overturned because the court ruled that it is impossible to determine motive, as in the recent case of this Marine.
So what do you do if you think someone is in a contract marriage?
First, you could consider minding your own business. (Didn’t see that one coming, did you?)
But if you feel like you must notify someone, start with your service’s criminal investigation division (example: Army CID) either at your local base or through their tip email address, which you can find by Googling. But don’t be surprised if nothing ever happens: investigators often don’t actively investigate contract marriages unless they are uncovered as part of another crime.
Do you think contract marriages are common? Do you personally know of anyone who has been in one? Tell us in the comments.