Adultery in the Military: Understanding the Impact and Legal Consequences

Did you know that adultery is considered a crime in the armed forces? By now, you’re probably aware that military members are bound to a higher moral standard. Although social norms have differed in recent years, the military remains firm in its views on extramarital sexual conduct.

Maintaining romantic relationships can be challenging, given the demanding military lifestyle. Many service members get deployed for extended periods, which may strain connections. However, the consequences of engaging in adulterous acts can be severe.

US military personnel with his wife

Adultery in the Military: Unpacking the Issue

What exactly is adultery in the military context? According to the US military, adultery is when a service member engages in sexual relations with someone other than their spouse. As of 2019, the Military Justice Act replaced the term ‘adultery’ with ‘extramarital sexual conduct.’

Military personnel who are single and has sexual intercourse with a married person is also considered adulterous in the eyes of the military. According to military standards, these acts bring discredit upon the armed forces and violate good order and discipline.

But what if the couple is legally separated? The 2019 Manual for Court Martial states that legal separation may be used as a defense if they are severing their marriage. Thus, the accused’s marital status is paramount in this case.

Military personnel may find it challenging to maintain relationships because of the nature of their work. Deployments, long separations, and high-stress environments can take their toll on relationships. Hence, the temptation can be severe.

However, the military is quite severe for personnel engaged in adulterous acts. Their clandestine affairs might affect their morale, unit cohesion, and operational readiness.

Is Adultery a Crime in the Military?

Yes, it is illegal for a service member to engage in adulterous acts. The military has severe punishments for personnel who are involved in adultery.

The Legal Landscape: UCMJ and Adultery

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) considers it a punishable criminal offense for a military member to commit adultery. This code contains a comprehensive list of prohibited behaviors by military standards.

Interestingly, unlike many other UCMJ violations, adultery isn’t considered a crime in civilian law. Adultery is illegal in only 16 US states. However, Article 134 of the UCMJ maintains that this crime is punishable if it degrades the “good order and discipline” within a military unit or “brings discredit upon” the armed forces.

Military Adultery Punishment

Military justice makes criminal punishment for adulterous acts for various reasons. Having military status means you are expected to behave with high moral values. It says much about a person’s integrity and may affect unit cohesion.

Adultery in the military is regarded as severe. The maximum punishment military personnel can receive for this grave offense includes dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to a year.

More often than not, a service member is punished with milder sentences, including the following:

  • Administrative disciplinary action
  • Administrative separation
  • Partial forfeiture of pay
  • Rank reduction
  • Other punitive discharges besides dishonorable

Addressing the Challenges: Strengthening Military Relationships

Let’s say a military individual has an ongoing or recent relationship or marriage but is deployed far from his or her spouse or partner. Because of the distance, maintaining a relationship can be challenging. However, taking care of relationships is hard in general.

Navigating through long-distance relationships can take its toll on anyone, but if both parties exert effort and prioritize each other’s needs, they can strengthen their bond wherever they are. The military has resources to support families.

Seeking Help: Counseling and Support Services

Being in the military can affect a person’s mental health and emotional well-being. Being far away from loved ones can make anyone feel lonely. Consequently, some people engage with wrongful sexual intercourse with people nearby to fill the void.

The military offers comprehensive health resources to combat these challenges, including mental health benefits and counseling. These benefits aren’t exclusive to service members. The military offers various resources to support military families, too. You can direct your spouse to military support groups when deployed far away.

If you and your spouse have relationship problems, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. You can seek counseling to care for your bond and resolve your issues. Legal separation isn’t the only solution.


two gold-colored rings on paper

Adultery, in general, is a morally wrong act, and the military does not take this offense lightly. If you are in the armed forces, you should take good care of your marriage not only out of love for your partner but because you are expected to behave accordingly by the military.

Fortunately, the military offers various resources and support to help military members navigate through the challenges of marriage. To learn more about military life and military verification, explore our website further.


Is it illegal to cheat on your spouse in the military?

Yes, to this day, sexual relations with someone other than your spouse is considered illegal in the US military. However, if the couple is legally separated, the accused may use their marital status as a defense.

What is UCMJ adultery? 

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is a set of rules that military personnel must adhere to. The UCMJ prohibits adultery because it degrades the good order and discipline the military is renowned for.

What counts as adultery in the military?

Adultery is a situation wherein a military member engages in sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse. It should be noted that as of January 2019, the Military Justice Act has used the term ‘extramarital sexual conduct’ to replace the word ‘adultery.’

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