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NEWS | Sept. 14, 2016

BAH Marriages are Costly

By Joint Base Charleston legal office 628th Air Base Wing and 315th Airlift Wing Legal Office

The possibility of collecting a base allowance for housing and being able to move out of the dorms might sound tempting, but getting married for these reasons can be costly.

Marriage is a serious moral, financial, and emotional commitment; and the courts of South Carolina treat it as such. People often think that obtaining a divorce is easy or that if they have been married for a short time, they will be able to get an annulment. However, divorce and annulment proceedings can be costly and time consuming even if both parties want to leave the marriage. In order to get a divorce order, it is necessary to write a complaint, file it with the Family Court, pay filing fees, serve the complaint on the other spouse and schedule a hearing.

These proceedings usually require the assistance of a lawyer. The base legal office does not represent legal assistance clients in state court, so Airmen often have to pay for a lawyer themselves. Private lawyers can charge up to thousands of dollars per case depending on its complexity.

It is sometimes thought that a lengthy legal process can be avoided by getting an annulment to end a short marriage. However, the length of a marriage has nothing to do with getting an annulment. In order to obtain an annulment, one of four grounds must be present at the time of the marriage. These grounds are: Duress (someone forced you to get married), fraud (someone lied about their identity), affinity and consanguinity (the married couple are closely related, (in most states you cannot marry a first cousin), and failure to consummate by cohabitation (the couple never lived together after marriage). An annulment is usually not available to couples who have had sexual relations after the wedding. Even if a couple has never had sex, the court may use other factors to establish a valid marriage. Additionally, annulments can be more costly than a divorce because the parties may need to produce witnesses and other evidence at a hearing to prove one of the four grounds. 

Most couples don’t qualify for an annulment, and will need to obtain a divorce to end their marriage. In South Carolina, unless a person can prove very specific facts, such as adultery or physical cruelty, they will have to wait one year to get a divorce. During this one-year waiting period, spouses must live separate and apart. This means they cannot live together in the same house. Keep in mind that although living separate and apart, each spouse has a claim to any money that the other makes and property that is acquired by either partner. Additionally, if you are in the military, you are legally married until divorced. This means you are responsible for providing financial support to your dependents. Finally, entering into a sham wedding for the purposes of collecting BAH, could result in criminal charges for fraud against the United States. 

No one should enter into a marriage lightly. Wanting to move off base or to collect BAH is no reason to get married. Doing so could be costly and may jeopardize your career and place your personal life in total disarray. So, if you are considering saying, “I do” to this unwise action, please say, “I don’t” instead.

This article is not intended to replace seeking legal advice from an attorney. Legal assistance is provided at the Air Base on a walk-in basis on Tuesdays from 1200-1500. Legal Assistance is available at the Naval Weapons Station on a walk-in basis Mondays from 0800-1100 and on Fridays by appointment from 0800-1100. Please call 843-963-5502 for all appointments.