Enforcing the Military Dependent Support Guidelines in Bethesda

Although each of the military services (except the Air Force) imposes a requirement that its members provide support for dependents, enforcing the dependent support guidelines is often difficult.  A commanding officer does not have the authority to take support from a service member’s pay or allowances and give it to his or her dependents even if there is a court order awarding support.  To take money from a service member’s pay and give it to his or her dependents requires a garnishment order (after obtaining a judgment of support) from a state court which is sent to DFAS[1] and not to the service member’s command. 

Upon receiving a complaint for dependent support, the CO is instructed to counsel the service member of his or her obligation to provide support.  If the service member refuses to provide adequate support after counseling, then the CO may impose discipline (usually non-judicial punishment under UCMJ, Article 15). A failure to pay support to dependents can be charged as “conduct unbecoming” or “failure to pay just debts” (under UCMJ, Article 134), or “failure to obey a lawful order” (under UCMJ, Article 92). 

Notwithstanding the requirement that the CO shall enforce the dependent support guidelines, rarely is a service member charged at either NJP or court martial for a failure to provide adequate dependent support.  Often, the most effective method for getting dependent support from a service member is to threaten to send a complaint for non-support to the service member’s commanding officer.  Although a complaint for support is not likely to result in any formal punishment, it frequently has an adverse impact on the service member’s performance evaluation or fitness report which may affect his or her military career. 

In the military promotions are limited and become more competitive as the sailor or officer advances.  Often a failure to promote after two years of eligibility will result in a discharge from the service.  Performance Evaluations (or Fitness Reports) rank service members against each other and are submitted to the promotion board (and are often the basis for promotion or non-promotion).  An allegation that an NCO or officer is not providing adequate support to his or her dependents often lowers his or her standing with the chain of command and his or her rank among peers.  When the service member comes up for a promotion or assignment, he or she will be seen as less deserving where a performance evaluation reflects that he or she was not viewed as among the top rated in his or her unit.  The service member will often “voluntarily” provide adequate support if threatened with a non-support which might affect his or her performance evaluation and future chances for promotion.

[1]  The Defense Finance and Accounting Service is the entity providing service members with pay and allowances. It has specific guidelines for taking money under state court garnishment orders.  The Order is sent by DFAS to the service member (via his command) who has 90 days to state a reason why the Order is invalid or should not be followed.