Consequences of Adultery in a Military Divorce

For the dependent spouse the consequences of reporting your spouse for adultery are also significant. Although the military spouse is not likely to be court-martialed for adultery, there is a substantial possibility that those allegations will negatively affect the service member’s military career. Often, the service member’s salary, pension, or health insurance benefits provide support for the service member’s spouse or children. Generally, it does not help the spouse in a divorce case to end the service member’s military career (and undermine his ability to provide support).                               

The Impact of Divorce on Security Clearances

Many military service members depend on security clearances to perform their duties.  Without access to confidential information, service members in sensitive positions become worthless to their commands.  To maintain a security clearance, a service member (or civilian) must demonstrate that he or she can be trusted to hold the nation’s secrets.

There are many reasons why someone might not be trusted to hold the nation’s secrets.  Contacts with foreign nationals, excessive indebtedness, alcohol or drug abuse are all reasons for removing or denying a security clearance.  Where someone demonstrates a general lack of trustworthiness – as in conducting an affair – his or her credibility becomes suspect. Whether someone should be allowed a security clearance is decided on a case by case basis and is based on the totality of circumstances. This “totality of the circumstances” standard allows the person seeking the clearance to show that despite the adultery he or she is otherwise a trustworthy person.

Also, as discussed above, an aggrieved spouse might make allegations in a contested trial that raise questions about the service member’s trustworthiness, or worse. Sometimes self-interest will prevent an angry spouse from airing dirty laundry on the court record. The allegations contained in the Complaint for Divorce or in a Petition for Protective Order are readily available to a security clearance investigator. Moreover, the allegations may move an investigator to get a transcript of the court proceedings, or contact the aggrieved spouse directly. 


In conclusion, before a case proceeds to court there are military and civilian proceedings; including Protective Orders, MPO’s, Limited Divorce and Marital Separation Agreements that are often influential on the final divorce hearing or resolve the matter altogether.  A person who is seeking to separate from his or her spouse should understand the purpose and effects of each. 

As a general rule, it is better for the parties to work out a Marital Separation Agreement instead of having a court decide the same issues, but such an agreement is not always available. If there are allegations of domestic violence, those allegations may have a dramatic impact on the case and the military service member’s career (both in and out of the military) if they are not vigorously and properly contested.