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National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or (TTY) 1-800-787-3224

Know the Laws:

UPDATED June 25, 2013

Military Domestic Violence Information

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This page includes the basics of military law, the Family Advocacy Program, confidentiality, removal of guns, and finding help.

Basic info

back to topWhat are the differences between the military and the civilian justice system?

One of the main differences is that in the military, the commanding officer has the authority to decide what behavior to address and whether to use judicial, administrative, or other means to deal with domestic abuse or domestic violence.  There are some general guidelines, but the important point is that the commander can use his/her full discretion to decide what to do.

The civilian justice system deals with domestic violence/abuse in a different way than the military system does.  The civilian justice system makes decisions based on the state’s laws.  Courts will decide what punishment or other action to take, based on testimony and evidence from both sides.  Please see your state's page on this site (www.WomensLaw.org) to see how the civilian justice system handles domestic violence/abuse in your state.

In both the military and civilian justice systems, you can seek a protective order requiring the abuser to stay away from you and your children, your home, your workplace or school and not engage in any violent conduct.  Protective orders have different names in the various states, but the MPO or military protective order is consistently called that among all the Services.  You can have both an MPO and a civil protective order (CPO) at the same time.  However, the procedure for getting an MPO and a CPO and the duration of the orders are quite different in both systems.  See Military Protective Orders for more information on MPOs.

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back to topI have heard the terms “domestic abuse” and “domestic violence” used by military personnel. Is there a difference?

Yes.  In the military, “domestic abuse” and “domestic violence” mean two different things.  In both cases, the abuser can be of the same-sex or of the opposite sex, and s/he must be one of the following:

  • your current or former spouse;
  • a person who you have a child in common with; or
  • a current or former "intimate partner" who you live/lived with.

Domestic abuse is defined as a pattern of behavior resulting in emotional/psychological abuse, economic control, and/or interference with personal liberty.  There does not have to be any physical violence involved.

Domestic violence in the military is a crime (under the United States Code, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, or state law) that involves the use, attempted use, or threatened use of force or violence OR a violation of an order of protection.*

If your relationship with the abuser does not meet any of these requirements, you could still qualify for a civilian protective order (CPO) in the state you live in.  Go to the Know the Laws tab on the top left of the page, enter your state in the drop-down menu and click on Restraining Orders to see if you qualify for a CPO.

* Department of Defense Directive 6400.06, sections E2.13, E2.14

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back to topI am being abused. How do I go get help in the military system?

Anyone who is a victim of domestic abuse or domestic violence by someone who is serving in the military can seek assistance from a victim advocate at the Family Advocacy Program on the installation.  The victim advocate may be able to work with you to get a Military Protective Order and provide other services and also help you with any civilian resources that may be helpful too.* 

However, even if you are not married to the offender, have no child in common or never lived together, (and therefore, do not meet the military's definition of domestic abuse or violence), the victim advocate is still required to provide basic information about how the military system works and to help you access services offered in the civilian community.*  Every installation is required to have at least one victim advocate, and the larger ones will have several.  To read more about the FAP, go to The Family Advocacy Program and Confidentiality.  You can find read more about this program on the Army OneSource website.

* Department of Defense website, Family Advocacy Program

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back to topIf I tell someone in the military that I am being abused, will it be kept confidential?

Whether or not what you say will be kept confidential depends on who you report it to.  If you want the information to be confidential, this is known as making a "restricted report" (a non-confidential report is an "unrestricted report"). 

There are just three groups of professionals who’ve been granted the ability to keep information about domestic abuse or violence confidential.  They are victim advocates, chaplains and medical professionals (health care providers).*  However, even those three groups of professionals would have to reveal the abuse if they believe that it is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious and immediate threat to the health or safety of the you or another person.  In that case, it will likely be reported to the FAP, the commander and/or law enforcement.**

If you report the abuse to other staff at the FAP (aside from a victim advocate or supervisor of a victim advocate) it will not be confidential.  FAP works with military command and law enforcement personnel.   The abuser will also be interviewed to have the chance to respond to the complaint.**

All others are required to make an immediate report of the abuse or violence to FAP.  Even if you, personally, do not report the abuse, all military personnel and civilians employed by the military (with the exception of the three groups of professionals mentioned above), are required to report suspected domestic violence to other parts of the system.  What this means is that, regardless of how information about suspected domestic violence comes into the system (i.e., emergency room report, routine medical screening, police response or victim disclosure), the command and others will be notified, whether or not you want this to occur.***

While there are others who can offer assistance, such as the military police or the Staff Judge Advocate or Judge Advocate General, contacting them may result in a formal report.  If you are concerned about the abuser being aware that you’ve asked for assistance, then begin with the victim advocate, the chaplain or a medical professional.  They can then assist you to consider when and how to make a more formal report of the abuse/ violence and to access other needed information and support from the professionals who do not have the ability to keep it confidential.

You may also decide to seek help outside of the military, where stricter confidentiality rules apply.  Shelters and agencies in your area can help you think through your options.  To find an agency in your area, go to our State and Local Programs page and enter your state in the drop-down menu.  Shelters near military installations are typically familiar with the policies, practices and people and can also help you access a victim advocate.

Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, August 21, 2007, sections,, 6.7.1
Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, August 21, 2007, section E3.
*** Department of Defense Instruction, Number 6400.06, August 21, 2007, section E3.5.5

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back to topCan victims in same-sex relationships receive help?

Yes.  The Family Advocacy Program's ("FAP") policy has been changed from prior years to include people in same-sex relationships.*  

Victims in same-sex relationships (and heterosexual relationships) who are civilians and not married to the active duty service members are eligible for limited services from FAP (risk and danger assessment, safety planning, etc.) but would be referred to community-based resources for ongoing services.  They are not eligible for medical services because they are not beneficiaries of the military health system.

Victims in same-sex domestic violence situations can also apply for and receive an MPO.  See our Military Protective Orders page for more information on MPOs.

* See DoD Instruction 6400.06 (Incorporating Change 1, Septermber 20, 2011)

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The Family Advocacy Program and Confidentiality

back to topWhat is the Family Advocacy Program (FAP)?

The Department of Defense (DOD) established the Family Advocacy Program (FAP) to address family violence in military families.  The FAP is designed to prevent, identify, report and treat all aspects of child abuse and neglect and domestic abuse/violence through outreach, prevention and intervention efforts.  FAP staff is supposed to work closely and collaboratively with military commands, military law enforcement personnel, medical staff, family center personnel and chaplains, as well as civilian organizations and agencies, to prevent family violence and help troops and families develop healthier relationships.*

* Department of Defense website, Family Advocacy Program

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back to topWhat happens after the FAP receives a report of abuse?

After the FAP receives a report of abuse from you or from whoever you have reported it to, the FAP is required to act immediately.  The FAP will assign a counselor to begin an investigation and to offer immediate services.  The FAP counselor should talk to you and the abuser separately to get more information about what happened in order to develop recommendations for services or treatment that will help end the abuse.*

The information gathered during the investigation will be presented to the Case Review Committee (CRC) and they will make a determination if they believe that domestic abuse or violence has occurred.  The CRC uses the language “substantiated” for when they do believe that abuse/violence has occurred and “unsubstantiated” if they do not believe that it has occurred.  The CRC includes social workers, a victim advocate, counselors, chaplains, medical and legal personnel and a representative of command.  On some installations, the immediate supervisor of the alleged abuser is also invited to attend the review.**

The CRC will consider if the abuser seems like a good candidate for battering intervention and treatment and possibly alcohol treatment or other specific individual services.  They will recommend to command who makes the ultimate decision as to whether the abuser should undergo intervention and treatment or if a court martial and separation from the Service is instead going to be appropriate.*

* See Department of Defense website, Family Advocacy Program
** See Department of Defense website, Glossary and Domestic Abuse, Frequently Asked Questions

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back to topWhat will happen to the abuser if I make a non-confidential report of domestic abuse or violence?

If you make a non-confidential (unrestricted) report of domestic abuse/violence by a military service member who is/was your spouse or intimate partner, then the Family Advocacy Program ("FAP") will become involved.  The FAP may recommend treatment for the abuser or other services through the Case Review Committee (CRC).  To read more about the FAP and the CRC, go to What happens after the FAP receives a report of abuse?

The abuser's commander will have full authority to decide how to handle the report of abuse.  The punishment could range from documenting the behavior in the service member's record book to ordering clinical treatment to taking any disciplinary action or punishment s/he believes is appropriate.*

In most cases, if no prior domestic abuse or violence has been reported to FAP and the nature of the abuse/violence is not life-threatening, most commanders will order the abuser to comply with the treatment recommendations of the FAP.  If there have been several prior reports, if the abuser has previously been provided treatment, or if the nature of the violence is extreme, then the commander may decide to pursue a civilian criminal case, administratively separate your spouse from the military or begin court-martial proceedings.

* See "The Military Response to Victims of Domestic Violence, Tools for Civilian Advocates," published by the Battered Women's Justice Project

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Removal of Guns

back to topWill the military take away the abuser's firearms?

If the abuser is a member of the military or is a civilian employee of the military and has:

  • a misdemeanor or felony conviction for a crime of domestic violence in a civilian court, or
  • a conviction for a crime of domestic violence at a general or special court-martial,

then the military can:

  • take any government-issued firearms and ammunition, and
  • suspend the individual’s authority to possess government-issued firearms and ammunition.*

The military will not take away firearms for:

  • summary court-martial convictions,
  • nonjudicial punishment,
  • deferred prosecutions in civilian courts, or
  • determinations of "substantiated" abuse by the FAP Case Review Committees.*

Since MPOs are issued administratively by the commander, they are considered "nonjudicial."  So, if you have an MPO, the military will not take away the abuser's firearms unless s/he also has a conviction of domestic violence.*

Note: It is also important to note that this removal of guns is not always enforced.

* See Family Advocacy Program Commander's Guide, pages 39 to 45

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Getting Other Help

back to topIf I separate from the abuser, is any financial compensation available to me?

Yes.  You might qualify for the Transitional Compensation Program, which provides for financial, medical, dental, and commissary (grocery) and exchange (other goods/ products) privileges to family members who are being abused by a Service member.

If you have separated from the abuser, you are eligible for Transitional Compensation if:

  • the Service member has served at least 30 days on active duty;
  • you were married to, or you are the family member of, a Service member and you were residing in his/her home with him/her
  • when the offense occurred; and
  • one of the following is true:
    • the Service member has been administratively separated from active duty due to abuse of a family member; OR
    • s/he was convicted by court-martial of an abuse offense AND either s/he is separated from active duty after the conviction OR s/he is sentenced to forfeiture of all pay and allowances.*
The payments are made once a month for 12-36 months and will begin either: 
  • on the date the administrative separation starts; or
  • on the date the court-martial sentence is given or when the pre-trial agreement is approved.**

You will no longer be eligible to receive benefits if you remarry, go back to living with the abuser, or if the conviction is reduced to a lower punishment or the administrative separation is revoked (canceled).**

If the commander is considering separating your spouse from the military, you may want to check with your FAP counselor to make sure the commander prepares the appropriate documentation for you to receive these benefits.  You may also check with the FAP to find out what the monthly compensation amount will be for you and your children.

Note: Even if you do not qualify for the Transitional Compensation Program, military service regulations require service members to provide "adequate support" to their family members.**  You can talk to the installation legal office for more information.

* See DoD Instruction 1342.24, Transitional Compensation for Abused Dependents
** "The Military Response to Victims of Domestic Violence, Tools for Civilian Advocates," published by the Battered Women's Justice Project

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back to topIf we are stationed overseas, where can I get help?

Domestic violence victims may become more vulnerable when stationed overseas since there are likely to be fewer services available both on and off the installation.  However, an abuser can still be punished for committing domestic violence against you.  If the batterer is a civilian (such as government employees, civilian contractors, or family member of a military Service member) and commits a domestic violence felony, s/he can be prosecuted in a federal court in the US if the host nation declines to prosecute.  If the batterer is a Service member, s/he can be prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice even if the host nation declines to prosecute.*

If you are a civilian family member, and the Service member is being relocated overseas, the military does not require you to relocate overseas with the Service member.  (In fact, families with histories of domestic violence may be screened out for overseas relocation because of increased vulnerability and reduced access to services.)  However, if you do relocate overseas, you can still request "relocation for personal safety" if you are a victim of abuse and your safety is at risk.  The military may allow you to transport a vehicle with you (that is in your name or the service member's name) when you relocate.*

To connect with someone who can help you, you can contact the American Domestic Violence Crisis Line by emailing crisis@866uswomen.org or you can call their crisis line (which is toll-free internationally) by calling the local AT&T operator from the country you are living in and asking to be connected to 866-USWOMEN.  The crisis line is also available in the US to serve families who have loved ones being abused overseas -- dial 1-866-USWOMEN (toll-free).  It is the mission of the American Domestic Violence Crisis Line to serve Americans being abused in foreign countries.  For more information, visit their website at www.866uswomen.org.

* "The Military Response to Victims of Domestic Violence, Tools for Civilian Advocates," page 51, published by the Battered Women's Justice Project


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back to topWhere can I find additional resources on the Internet?

Here are some places that you might find helpful to reach out to

Military One Source
Phone: 800-342-9647
Web site: http://www.militaryonesource.mil/
Military OneSource is a Department of Defense-funded program providing comprehensive information on every aspect of military life at no cost to active duty, Guard and reserve service members, and their families. Information includes, but is not limited to, deployment, reunion, relationship, grief, spouse employment and education, parenting and child care, and much more.

The Minerva Center
Phone: 410-437-5379
Web site: www.minervacenter.com
Non-profit educational foundation supporting the study of military women and women in war.  The Minerva Center also provides Internet support groups and a listserve.

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence
Phone: 512-407-9020 (Administration)
Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
Military contacts: www.ncdsv.org/ncd_contacts.html
Military publications: www.ncdsv.org/ncd_militaryresponse.html

National Military Family Association
Phone: 703-823-6632
Web site: www.nmfa.org
The National Military Family Association (NMFA) was created by wives and widows of military personnel who were seeking financial security.  NMFA programs educate military families, the public, and Congress on the rights and benefits of military families.

National Organization for Victim Assistance
Phone: 703-535-6682
Web site: www.try-nova.org
The National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) provides victim and witness assistance for criminal justice and mental health professionals, advocates, researchers, victims and survivors, and related professionals.

Center for Women Veterans
Department of Veterans Affairs
Phone: 202-273-6193
Website: www.va.gov/womenvet/

Please go to our National Organizations page and click on Military for more helpful resources.  We list places that you can call for help, such as the Department of Defense ("DoD") Safe Helpline (877-995-5247), which offers crisis support service for members of the DoD (military) community affected by sexual assault. It provides live, one-on-one advice, support, and information to the worldwide DoD community.  The service is anonymous, secure, and available 24/7 – providing victims with the help they need, anytime, anywhere.

You can find a relevant article here:
A Considerable Service: An Advocate's Introduction to Domestic Violence and the Military by Christine Hansen, Domestic Violence Report, published by Civic Research Institute. (2001)

You can find the Department of Defense sample Military Protective Order form here:


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