Calculating Military Child Support

Find out how child support is determined when one or both parents are in the military.

If you or your spouse serves in the armed forces, figuring out your child support obligation can throw a twist in your divorce case. This article covers some of the subjects you should consider and provides a guide to calculating how much support should be paid in your case.

State Law

To start, consult the child support guidelines in the state where your child support case is pending. Each state has its own laws regarding what income gets counted toward the support-paying parent’s net resources. For a military member, net resources might include much more than what appears on a civilian’s pay stub, so it’s important to understand the ins and outs of military pay.

Leave and Earnings Statement

No matter what branch the service member belongs to, he or she will get paid with a Leave and Earning Statement (LES). The LES is the military’s version of a paycheck, and it is the most valuable tool for determining how much a military member makes for a living. The LES will list the service member’s rank and years of service, which determines his or her base pay. The LES also lists the member’s Home of Record (HOR), so you know which state to file in.

Unlike civilians, federal tax returns don’t provide very accurate yearly income figures for service members due to the extra allowances they receive - but the LES will list allowances. Check the LES for items such as the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), which covers food, the Clothing Allowance (CA) and any other special allowances. And, service members deployed overseas usually receive some kind of specialty pay, especially if the duty requires dangerous living conditions.

Because service members pay no income tax on allowances, these extra benefits can add up very quickly. Depending on how your state calculates income, allowances can substantially increase a military member’s child support obligation.

What to Do if You Can’t Get Copies of Earnings Statements

If you’re married to a military member who is serving overseas, or you have been living apart and can’t get your military spouse to voluntarily share his or her pay information, you might have to file a request for Leave and Earnings Statements and other documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Because members of the military work for the government, the only way to get your hands on their LES statements is to go through the proper federal channels. You can use the Act’s website to access the service member’s branch through the section that handles Department of Defense requests.

Because service members are not allowed to carry debt, it is unlikely your ex-spouse will get away with ignoring a support obligation. Military members are also bound by high ethical standards that determine their status and opportunities for promotion within the ranks. This moral code is shared across all branches and guarantees service members live up to their obligations at work and at home.

If you have questions about a military divorce case, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.


Army Regulation 608-99
Air Force Regulation, Title 32 C.F.R. pt 818 (2000)
Coast Guard Personnel Manual
Navy OPNAV Instruction 1740.4D
Marine Corps Manual for Legal Administration, Chapter 15, Financial Support for Family Members

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