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What Happens if You Cheat on Your Spouse in the Military

Written by Everett Bledsoe / Fact checked by Brain Bartell

What Happens if You Cheat on Your Spouse in the Military

What happens if you cheat on your spouse in the military? Can people get in trouble for cheating?

The general answer is yes. Potential punishments for infidelity include rank reduction, pay forfeiture, up to a year in prison, and even dishonorable discharge.

However, it’s quite difficult for service members to be charged with adultery. All three of the following criteria must be met for adultery to be considered a crime in the military:

  1. There was sexual intercourse; gender or sexual orientation doesn’t affect this criterion.
  2. The soldier or his/her sexual partner was married. Hence, even if you’re not married but your partner is, you could still be hit with an adultery charge.
  3. The cheating was detrimental to the discipline of the military unit and can tarnish its reputation.

In practice, the last criterion is the most difficult to prove, and it often determines what consequences the unfaithful spouse has to face, if any.

Potential Consequences for the Cheating Spouse

Once found guilty of adultery, a cheating army wife or husband may face one or some of the following repercussions.

1. Rank reduction


Rank reduction is among the milder punishments a soldier may receive.

It often results in lower pay for the service member, which, in turn, affects the amount of child support their former spouse can receive in the event of a divorce.

This is one result that can be undesirable for both the cheater and the deceived spouse.

2. Punitive discharge, pay forfeiture, and loss of benefits

There are two types of punitive discharge: bad conduct discharge (BCD) and dishonorable discharge, the worst form of service discharge a soldier may receive.

Of these types, a BCD is more common for adultery offenses, and it often accompanies forfeiture of pay and loss of retirement benefits, which are other possible consequences for cheating in the military.

A dishonorable discharge, in comparison, is a much more severe punishment for extramarital affairs and is a lot rarer. It often comes with jail time, and, like BCDs, entails a loss of retirement benefits.

3. Prison time up to a year


Speaking of dishonorable discharge and brig time, did you know a cheating military spouse may get up to a year in prison for infidelity?

It may sound fake, but it’s true. Imprisonment is the maximum punishment for adultery in the armed forces.

4. Administrative separation

Next, we have administrative separation. Essentially, this is another way the military can fire you, but unlike bad conduct or dishonorable discharge, it is done through administrative processes rather than the court and doesn’t involve a trial.

5. Administrative disciplinary action


This comes as a letter of reprimand or an oral reprimand. It can hinder a soldier’s promotion in the military, especially if the letter’s filed permanently in the HR records and not locally.

Factors That Affect Adultery Punishments in the Military

Before you report a cheating military spouse—or suppose someone else reported you instead—understand the following factors, which can affect the penalties for adultery.

  • Lower ranks tend to result in less serious disciplinary actions. This is because lower-ranking soldiers are less ‘public’, and therefore not representative of the military or its reputation.
  • You are cheating with a civilian and not another soldier.

In this case, the affair involves only one person in the military and not two, and so it is thought to be less detrimental to the order and discipline of the armed forces.

  • You have no other issues or charges against you.

Obviously, repeat offenders will be perceived less favorably, whether the infraction is adultery or something else.

  • If the affair affects work or uses military resources, the consequences will be tougher.
  • In some cases, the presence of alcohol or other contributing factors may complicate the final ruling or disciplinary outcome.


What happens if you cheat on your spouse in the military? For an exposed cheating military husband or wife, the consequences are not pretty.

Even if you’re not charged with adultery (which is likely, considering the requirements for prosecution), there’s always the emotional fallout to think about.

Cheating can ruin relationships, break up families, and harm your reputation. It can also ruin your bond with your children if you’re a parent.

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