Dependents and US Military Enlistment Standards

Female Marines Take On Challenges in Afghanistan
••• Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Enlisting in the military for many people may seem like a way to make a fresh start. Unfortunately, when it comes to debt and other financial responsibilities, enlistment may not be an option for you depending on your credit history, financial responsibilities and your responsibilities to your dependents. 

Military Regulations and Dependents

The military has regulations that actually require you to provide adequate financial support for your dependents. Because of this, the military limits the number of dependents an applicant can have. Those who exceed the stated number of dependents require a waiver to enlist.

Before a dependency waiver is granted for any of the services, the recruiting service will conduct a financial eligibility determination (i.e., they will look closely at your household bills and the income of your spouse).​

  • Navy: The Navy requires a waiver for any applicant with more than one dependent (including the spouse).
  • Marine Corps: In the Marine Corps, a waiver is required if an applicant has any dependent under the age of 18.
  • Air Force: The Air Force will do a financial eligibility determination if the member has any dependents.
  • Army: The Army requires a waiver if the applicant has two or more dependents (in addition to the spouse).
  • Coast Guard: The Coast Guard requires a waiver if there is more than one dependent (other than spouse) unless the applicant is enlisting in the grade of E-4 or above when the limit is two dependents (other than spouse).

    Who Does the Military Consider a Dependent?

    For enlistment purposes, a dependent is defined as:

    • A spouse, to include a common law spouse if the state recognizes such; or
    • Any natural child (legitimate or illegitimate) or child adopted by the applicant, if the child is under 18 years of age and unmarried, regardless of whether or not the applicant has custody of the child. The term natural child includes any illegitimate child when: the applicant claims the child as theirs, or the applicant's name is listed on the birth certificate as the parent, or a court order establishes paternity, or if any person makes an allegation of paternity that has not been finally adjudicated by a court; or
    • A stepchild of the applicant who resides with the applicant if the stepchild is under 18 years of age; or
    • Any parent or other person(s) who is/are, in fact, dependent on the applicant for more than one-half of their support.

    When Does the Military Not Consider a Spouse as a Dependent?

    In general and for enlistment purposes, an applicant is considered to be without a spouse (i.e., unmarried), if:

    • Common law marriage has not been recognized by a civil court or state law.
    • The spouse is incarcerated.
    • The spouse is deceased.
    • The spouse has deserted the applicant.
    • The spouse legally separated from the applicant (for the Army, separation by "mutual consent" is sufficient).
    • The applicant or spouse has filed for divorce. (Note: If the divorce action is contested, the service may deny enlistment until after the dispute is resolved in family court).
    • Man in Air Force Uniform Holding

      United States Military Enlistment Standards

    • Fresh Recruits Take Oath Of Enlistment At NYC's Only Military Base

      How Old Can You Be When Enlisting?

    • military dad holding daughter's hand

      Learn About the US Military Enlistment Standards for Single Parents

    • A married military couple sharing quality time

      What to Know About Getting Married in the Military

    • Soldier holding a folded American flag during a military Funeral for active duty death of a military serviceman

      What Are Active Duty Death Benefits for US Military Family Members?

    • Marine Corps

      How to Get a Criminal History Waiver to Join the Military

    • Credit report form on a desk

      How Your Credit History Can Affect Enlistment in the U.S. Military

    • Beer and 4th of July

      Does Drug Use Disqualify You From Military Enlistment?

    • Officer with crying son

      What Are Air Force Humanitarian Assignments?

    • A Visual Key to the Military's Stance on Asthma and ADD

      Military Asthma and ADD/ADHD Policy

    • oath of enlistment

      Do You Have to Be a US Citizen to Join the Military?

    • Fresh Recruits Take Oath Of Enlistment to Join the US Navy

      What the Recruiter Never Told You About Job Selection in the Military

    • Family in military embrace

      What Are Military Humanitarian or Compassionate Assignments?

    • a silhouette of a soldier saluting

      How a Criminal History Can Affect U.S. Military Enlistment

    • Family welcomes home USA army soldier.

      How Old Can You Be to Enlist in the Military?

    • Family welcoming army father

      How to Transfer Education Benefits Under the GI Bill