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Military law refers to the law that governs all members of the armed forces, and is primarily made up of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ is essentially a code of conduct that lists everything from crimes and other offenses to the rules and regulations for sentencing and trial. Contrary to common knowledge, even retirees are subject to conduct described in the UCMJ. If a crime occurs while off-duty, the responsible servicemember could be subject to the legal action detailed in the UCMJ in addition to civilian courts. However, criminal law is not the only area affected by military law.
Family law, employment law, and even administrative issues within the military itself are all subject to specific rules and regulations as set forth by military law in order to address the specificity of military family and servicemember needs. From family law, to workplace discrimination, to military enlistement contracts, it’s important to research your specific legal issue if any military servicemember is involved, and consider reaching out to a military law attorney to learn more about your options.
Areas of Military Law
It’s important to remember that the law has specific rules regarding how military servicemembers and Veterans are allowed to conduct themselves, as well as what kind of corrective penalties might apply. Whenever you find yourself facing a legal issue as a servicemember, Veteran, or military family member, remember to not only research the civilian law that applies to your situation but also look into whether military law is applicable. Military law applies to many areas of law, some of which may be surprising.
Let’s go over some areas covered by military law:
- Divorce. Military legal assistance offices exist to help servicemembers and their spouses handle the divorce process, which differs only slightly from that of civilian divorce. The main difference is that both the servicemember and their non-military spouse have access to military legal assistance at no cost. While military legal assistance attorneys cannot represent servicemembers or their families in the actual court, they can provide advice on issues such as the divorce, child custody, income taxes, and even wills. Specifically, these attorneys can help sort out the slight variations between civilian divorce and military divorce. If the former spouse was married to the servicemember for at least 20 years, they might also be eligible for medical, commissary, exchange, and theater privileges under the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation program.
- Child support. The main difference between civilian child support law and the approach of the military to child support law is that the military branches usually consider it the servicemember’s duty to financially support their dependents regardless of marital or custodial status. Commanding officers within the military can pursue non-judicial punishments against servicemembers who fail to pay child support including extra duties, reduction in rank, and even reduction in pay.
- Child custody/visitation. Custody and visitation decisions are made in much the same way as in civilian divorce, but considerations must be included regarding blocks of time where a servicemember might be away including deployments, annual training, and other orders.
- Marriage. Marriage for military couples is generally the same as for civilian couples. However, when a servicemember marries a foreign national there may be alternate requirements, similar to the requirements that must be met when planning a destination wedding. In some places the marriage might require the official consent of both sets of parents and even a commanding officer.
- Military employment discrimination protection. As a servicemember it is extremely important to know your rights in regard to civilian employment. Civilian employers are not allowed to discriminate against servicemembers by denying pay, benefits, promotion opportunities, or any other element of the job that a civilian in the same situation would be offered.
- Military reemployment protection. This is similar to the above issue, and refers to the law prohibiting civilian employers from firing or refusing to allow a servicemember to return to their job after a deployment or time away due to military obligations. It is illegal for a civilian employer to terminate or retaliate a military servicemember simply for being away on military orders.
- Military Civil Relief Act. This act exists to protect active duty servicemembers from evictions, foreclosures, bankruptcies, and other civil law issues while away on orders.
- Administrative separation. Administrative separation for servicemembers is similar to a civilian employee being fired from their job. Unlike dishonorable discharges which occur through a judicial process, administrative separation is non-judicial. It also requires written notification to the servicemember of the reasons for the separation as well as the characterization of service status, which could be decided as honorable, general, or other than honorable.
- Enlistment contracts. Like any contract, it is important to remember that the only enforceable elements of your enlistment are included in your enlistment contract. Recruiters sometimes suggest that certain bonuses or opportunities will be possible that in actuality cannot be enforced. Remember to go over any enlistment or military contract with a fine-toothed comb, because anything not included cannot be enforced.
If you or a loved one have questions regarding military law, seek legal counsel. Both servicemembers and their spouses are eligible for free military legal assistance. While these attorneys cannot represent their clients in civilian court, the advice they have to offer could prove to be invaluable if you or a loved one are dealing with any issue that may be covered by military law.