IG CORNER - No. 1 IG request: non-support of Family members
Story by: Lt. Col. Jessie Robinson
FORT RILEY IG OFFICE
The number one Armywide Inspector General request for assistance is non-support of Family members. Financial non-support of Family members is an official matter of concern that affects Families, Soldiers, leaders and the entire command.
Although some complaints are registered with the IG's office, and we assist in their resolution, this is a command issue that must be resolved by the company or higher level commander. Because this is a command issue, it is more than a betrayal of trust between Soldiers and their Family members, it is a violation of Army values and brings indignity on our Soldiers and commands.
Our company commanders and leaders spend thousands of man hours each year mediating with Family members and Soldiers to ensure the Army's standards for financial support of Family members is being properly met.
Several factors seem to contribute to this trend. Some Soldiers and leaders aren't aware of the requirement to provide financial support. Other Soldiers and leaders are aware of the requirement, but lack knowledge as to how to provide support in accordance with Army policy. Lastly, Soldiers and leaders may be aware of the requirement and the processes therein, but they fail to enforce the standard. Regardless of which category a Soldier falls into, it is a growing trend that must be put to an end with teaching and training at every level.
Family members should seek legal council from the Legal Assistance Office and contact their spouse's company commander as the first recourse. The Legal Assistance Office can explain the financial support required, the responsibility of the command and the command's limitations. Soldiers and Family members need to keep the command informed on all issues and concerns. Do not listen to well-meaning acquaintances who are not lawyers.
AR 608-99, Family support, child custody and paternity.
The provisions of AR 608-99 are intended as interim measures until the parties involved arrive at a mutual agreement or resolve their differences in court. The following information outlines this interim process as the financial support of dependents relates to Soldiers and Families.
Soldier responsibility: It is a Soldier's responsibility to manage their personal affairs satisfactorily. This responsibility includes providing adequate and continuous support for their Family members and complying with all court orders. When a court order or written support agreement exists establishing the amount of support, the Soldier is required to provide support in the amount stipulated. The Soldier will provide support until relief or modification of the obligation by court order or another agreement.
When no court order exists, the Soldier should provide support at a level acceptable to all parties. In the absence of a court order or a written support agreement containing a financial support provision, and until such an order or agreement is obtained, interim minimum financial support requirements are contained in AR 608-99, paragraph 2 to 6. Soldiers will maintain reasonable contact with Family members to ensure their financial needs are being met.
Soldiers must provide child support and alimony under the following circumstances: Court orders regarding child support, alimony and paternity; In accordance with the financial support provisions of a written or verbal support agreement in the absence of a court order; and situations required by AR 608-99, paragraph 2 to 6.
Commander responsibilities: Commanders must brief their Soldiers on the Department of the Army policy regarding support of Family members. They should process and respond to complaints of nonsupport, counsel Soldiers when nonsupport complaints are brought against them, respond to all official messages and correspondence in writing concerning nonsupport claims, conduct inquiries into allegations of nonsupport and take appropriate action against Soldiers who fail to comply with lawful orders based on regulations to include accounting for arrearages.
Commanders should take the time to confer with the SJA if there are any questions concerning appropriate action. These areas include, but are not limited to, the following: Counseling, admonition, memorandum of reprimand, bar to re-enlistment, administrative separation from the service and non-judicial punishment under UCMJ, Article 15.
Company commanders have no ability to release a Soldier from the interim support mandated by AR 608-99, paragraph 2 to 6. A battalion commander has a few options under paragraph 2 to 14 to excuse a Soldier from complying with the interim support requirements, but must consult with their BJA when invoking this authority. Commanders and first-line leaders must never take sides despite their perceived knowledge of a Soldier and or Family member's character. Our job as leaders is to enforce all Department of Defense directives and command policy. Leaders do not give legal advice to Soldiers or Family members; refer them to legal assistance.
Arrears: Soldiers cannot fall into arrears without violating AR 608-99, making such action punitive. Soldiers who fall into arrears may be punished under Article 92, UCMJ, for failure to provide support when due, and commanders should consult with their local SJA concerning "appropriate action" in those cases.
Although the collection of arrearages based on the financial support provisions of a court order or written support agreement may be enforced in court, there are no legal means for the military to enforce collection of BAH arrearages. Nevertheless, in all cases, Soldiers should be strongly encouraged, but not ordered, to pay arrearages. If a Soldier elects not to pay arrearages and has been or is receiving BAH–WITH or BAH–DIFF and not paying financial support to a dependent on whose behalf BAH is received, the commander should notify the appropriate military pay office to stop payments, as well as collect improperly past received payments. A Soldier has a requirement to pay back the arrearages, either voluntarily to the dependents for which they were received or via finance recoupment, which will be command-directed.
The above article has received a legal review from the 1ID Staff Judge Advocate Office.
The IG will provide assistance to any commander or 1st sergeant regarding non-support complaints upon request. Commanders also should seek assistance from the Staff Judge Advocate Administrative Law Division. The Soldier who is the subject of the support, as well as their Family members, who have concerns or questions regarding their inquiry, should be encouraged to contact the SJA Legal Assistance Office.