As a civilian worker, your education, skill set, abilities, and performance are the prime indicators of your pay. Well, imagine going to work tomorrow and finding out a coworker in the office next to yours with the same exact position and responsibilities as you is going to receive a giant pay increase simply because that person is getting married.
This coworker didn’t do anything work-related to earn this pay increase — that person may even be one of the weaker links on the team — but the coworker is going to receive $1,000 more each month because that person decided to tie the knot. Would you want to go out and get hitched so that you could receive that same pay hike as your coworker? Military members must face a somewhat of a similar decision in real life.
Recently, there have been reports of military members “shopping” online for spouses. The service member will post an ad on Craigslist (or another website) that proposes a contract-marriage arrangement.
This ad is from a Fort Hood, Texas, soldier: “im a soilder and im looking for a contract marriage ive been at hood for five years now i would like to meet someone that can take care of them self and has a stable job im not going to be someones entire support i dont care about helping out plz no fat or old im not shallow i jest think that u should be able to take care of yourself my names les im outgoing im from jacksonville fl im 25y i love anything outdoors i love to read i play video games lol im a nerd i know.”
This ad is from a soldier in Fort Stewart, Georgia: “Looking for a contract marriage, with someone seeking little or no money and a free place to live.”
These service members are looking for a mutually beneficial relationship: The soldier may reap the financial and practical benefits of being a married soldier, as opposed to a single soldier, and the other party benefits from free medical care, potentially free housing, and other financial benefits.
These types of contract marriage situations occur outside the military, too. You may hear about non-military members who marry for citizenship or financial benefits. All of these transactions come along with associated benefits and risks, and people have to ask themselves: Is it worth it?
What exactly are the benefits for a soldier?
Single soldiers generally live (rent-free) in the barracks, which are not exactly penthouses. They are sterile, cold in their design, and, in most cases, rooms are shared between two soldiers with minimal privacy. The barracks are often lacking in amenities like kitchens, but these single soldiers do have their meals provided for them at an on-base dining facility. If they want to eat at a restaurant or purchase groceries, they must use their own pay to do so. A soldier’s pay is modest, at best.
As of 2014, the average pay for an E-1 (the starting rank for many soldiers) with less than two years of rank is around $1,500 per month ($18,000 or so per year). An E-5 (Sergeant) with four or more years of experience earns around $2,500 per month (around $30,000 per year).
Let’s compare a soldier receiving only a base pay to a married soldier, who receives basic allowance for housing (BAH) and basic allowance for subsistence (BAS). A married soldier with no kids who has the rank of E-1 and lives in New York City would receive around $2,520 per month for housing, because living costs are high in that geographic location. In lower-cost areas, BAH is lower.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, that same E-1 would receive $753 per month. The soldier’s housing allowance periodically rises with rank, and if that person has children, this allowance will increase to account for the cost of raising dependents, as well. For BAS, an enlisted soldier receives around $325 per month.
This means that a single sergeant who has moved his or her way up to the rank of E-5 can easily earn less pay than a married private with the rank of E-1 ($30,000 versus around $52,000 for the private living in New York City). Apples to apples, a private can earn up to three times what that person earns as a single soldier in some locations. Yes, a single soldier has the barracks as a rent-free living option, but a married soldier has the financial freedom to live away from base.
The other person involved in the contract marriage arrangement receives Tricare for them and their dependents. With out-of-pocket medical costs often exceeding $3,000 annually, Tricare is a huge financial benefit. The other party also receives access to on-base facilities and services like commissary, childcare, and a number of other financial benefits under the contract arrangement.
What are the costs?
When it comes to day-today work life, the only real disadvantage for the married soldier is that he or she may have to work through lunch, because the married soldier can pack a lunch from home and does not need to visit the dining hall. There are a variety of other financial and practical implications, however, that a soldier considering a proposition like this should factor in.
What if the soldier finds someone he or she really cares for? What if the arrangement doesn’t work out as planned? Divorces — especially divorces involving military members — can get pretty tricky. The service member probably does not want to get stuck supporting someone he or she married for convenience.
Adultery is also prohibited under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). These arrangements may end up as ticking time bombs. If the service member marries for convenience, both parties agree to non-monogamous relationship, and then one party becomes uncomfortable with that “open marriage” arrangement, the soldier’s career could end up in serious jeopardy.
The maximum punishment for adultery, under article 134 of the UCMJ, is dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for one year.
The bottom line
A societal cost to these fake military marriages are the tax dollars that are being used to pay this extra money to these soldiers. Some may look at these situations and think about how military men and women serve our country, and how arranged marriages and similar systems have been around for hundreds of years — is this really that big of a deal?
On the other hand, some people may look at this as though soldiers are abusing the system, and people have bad tastes in their mouths about irresponsible spending of tax dollars after all of the bank bailouts and reports of frivolous government spending.
In an NBC News report, a statement from the Army said fraudulent marriages are “inconsistent with Army values and ethics.” The Army statement also indicated that soldiers who participate in these types of arrangements could be punished. It remains to be seen whether or not this will continue, or if the Army will set a policy in place that will deter soldiers from seeking these types of arrangements.