Can I Join the Military if I Have Children?

single parent in the military

If you want to join the U.S. Military, then there are a few basic requirements you must meet. You must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States or a resident alien.
  • Be at least 17 years old with parental consent, or 18 years old without.
  • Have graduated from high school.
  • Pass a medical exam.

But let’s say you meet all those requirements, but you’re also a parent. You may be wondering: Can I join the military if I have children?

The answer to that question is: It depends.

The Rules on Enlisting in the Armed Forces as a Parent 

In general, the Department of Defense does not allow anyone who has custody of more than two children under the age of 18 to enlist in the military.

In addition, single parents with custody of their children can’t enlist.

The official Department of Defense instruction states the following: “The Military Services may not enlist unmarried individuals who have custody of any dependents who are under the age of 18.”

Those rules are rather clear. However, each branch of service may have their own policies, which overrides the policies set forth by the Department of Defense.

What are the Army’s Policies on Parents?

single parent in the military

The Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve allow new recruits who are married to have no more than two dependents upon entering service. Those with more than two children will have to get a waiver from the Army before they can join.

In order to get a waiver, the prospective recruit must present a valid Family Care Plan (FCP), to their gaining commander. An FPC is a document which outlines how the recruit’s children will be cared for when their military duties prevent them from doing so.

If you are a single parent, then you may not join the Army—period. There’s no waiver that will allow you to enlist as a single parent.

Some single parents will try to “outsmart” the Army by giving up custody of their child to the child’s grandparent or other family member while they are in basic training. Then, they’ll try to regain custody after training.

However, that’s not advisable. The Army is well aware of this tactic and will dishonorably discharge anyone who’s caught.

What are the Navy’s Policies on Parents? 

The Navy doesn’t have a specific limit on the number of dependents you may or may not have as a married applicant. Also, the Navy does not automatically reject single parent applicants like the Army does. However, the Navy will require that both married and single parents get a waiver for each child before they are allowed to join.

What are the Air Force’s Policies on Parents?

single parent in the military

The Air Force allows married recruits who have up to two children to enlist without requiring a waiver. Applicants with three or more dependents must provide a waiver.

The Air Force requires single parents to provide waivers for up to three children to enlist. Single parents with four or more children are not allowed to join the Air Force—no exceptions.

Similar to the Army, the Air Force has seen some new recruits give up custody of their children only to try to regain custody after basic training. When new Air Force recruits enlist, they sign a certification that says they will not try to regain custody of their children while enlisted.

If the Air Force finds that a new recruit does try to regain custody of their child while enlisted, they’ll be immediately and permanently disqualified from service in the Air Force.

What are the Marines’ Policies on Parents? 

The Marine Corp has the strictest rules around joining as a parent.

Marines who are married and have one or more children will need a waiver to enlist. However, if the waiver is granted, married recruits with dependents will be required to join the Marine Reserves instead of active-duty Marines.

Single parents are not allowed to join the Marines. Like other branches of service, the Marine Corp understands that some single parents may choose to give up custody of their children in order to enlist. However, anyone who gives up custody of their children must wait a year before they enlist in the Marines.

What are the Coast Guards’ Policies on Parents?

single parent in the military

Technically, the Coast Guard does not fall under the Department of Defense. However, it still has rules around parents enlisting for service.

The Coast Guard will allow applicants to join if they are married and have no more than three children. Waivers may be requested on a case-by-case basis.

For many years, single parents with children were not allowed to enlist in the Coast Guard—no exceptions. However, that rule (along with others) was updated in November of 2022 to help boost recruitment numbers. Now, single applicants who have children can enlist in the Coast Guard if they have an approved waiver. 

What if I Become a Parent While in the Military? 

The military understands that enlisted personnel will likely get married and have children while serving. In fact, the Department of Defense just extended parental leave for service members who become parents.

Servicemembers who give birth are entitled to up to 30 days of convalescent leave. After those 30 days, service members who give birth will receive an additional 12 weeks of paid parental leave. Service members who are non-birth parents will receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave after the birth of the child. Parents who adopt or foster children will also be granted 12 weeks of parental leave.

Joining the Military if You’re a Parent

single parent in the military

As you can see, the military doesn’t make it easy for parents to join the military. That’s because they know how hard it can be for the servicemember and the family he or she leaves behind.

However, it’s not impossible. If you want to join the military even if you have children, then there is a path to do so. Talk to your local recruiter to find out more.

Finally, if you plan on joining the military and being commissioned as an officer without prior enlistment, you’ll need a strong resume along with a collection of recommendations, references, and be required to take the various officer training (candidate) tests required. 

Dr. Phillip Gold is President/CEO of Empire Resume and has vast experience writing resumes for both professionals and servicemembers transitioning from the military into civilian roles. He served as a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and was responsible for leading nuclear missile security. Phillip is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and holds a BA in Communications from The Ohio State University, an MS in Instructional Technology, an MBA in Finance, and a PhD in Finance.

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