Adultery & UCMJ: Article 134 Explained

Serving in the Armed Forces is an honor and a responsibility. Soldiers are held to a higher moral standard because the US military is founded on values like integrity, respect, and honor. This is why maintaining good order and discipline is vital to military operations.

Among the severe offenses a service member can commit is committing adultery or engaging in extramarital sexual conduct. What is adultery by military standards? This article will tackle how adultery can impact service members and what to do if you or a military member you know faces adultery charges.

soldier walking on field

What Constitutes Adultery Under the UCMJ?

Before 2019, an adultery charge was referred to as “sexual intercourse” between a married individual and another person other than their spouse. Since January 1, 2019, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) has referred to adultery as “Extramarital Sexual Conduct.”

The Military Justice Act defines ‘extramarital sexual conduct’ as oral-anal, anal-genital, oral-genital, or genital-genital between persons of the opposite or same sex. The sexual orientation of the parties involved is irrelevant to the legal criteria of this crime. Extramarital sexual conduct also occurs if you’re not the married party but engage in sexual relations with a married individual. For example, if a single service member participates in extramarital sexual conduct with a married civilian, this counts as adultery.

But what if one of the parties involved was legally separated? According to the 2019 Manual for Court Martial, legal separation may be used as a defense if one party is severing the marriage. A married couple is only considered legally separated if they sign a formal separation agreement or the state court issues an order of separation. Thus, the marital status of both parties is vital when it comes to adultery. Even if divorce proceedings aren’t over yet, a separation can protect the service member from violating the extramarital sexual conduct rule.

Is Adultery a Crime in the Military?

Yes, the Uniform Code of Military Justice system has deemed it a crime for military members to engage in extramarital sexual conduct. This is regardless if the incident involves genital sexual intercourse, anal sexual intercourse, or oral sexual relations. Engaging in adulterous activities brings discredit upon the Armed Forces, which is why the military takes it seriously.

What Are the Consequences of Adultery in the Armed Forces?

The UCMJ doesn’t care if the sexual partner of the service member is from the same or opposite sex. Regardless of which military unit you’re part of, military justice makes criminal punishment for adulterous acts for various reasons. An adultery charge is considered severe, so the consequences are equally grave. The maximum punishment a service member can receive includes forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for up to a year, and a dishonorable discharge.

couple taking wedding rings off

For milder cases, here are the possible punishments a service member may receive for engaging in extramarital sexual conduct:

  • Rank reduction
  • Administrative disciplinary action
  • Partial forfeiture of pay
  • Administrative separation
  • Other punitive discharges besides dishonorable

How Can Adultery Impact Military Careers?

Being part of the US military entails adhering to good order and discipline. Even if the involvement in sexual intercourse didn’t lead to the service member involved being removed from the military, there will be consequences that can affect that person in the long run.

Getting promoted in the military is considered a privilege and a testament to one’s commitment and hard work. If a service member gets demoted because of adultery charges, it might affect the trajectory of their professional life. It might take longer for them to achieve their professional goals. In some instances, having adultery charges on one’s permanent record might hinder them from getting the assignments they desire.

A person’s rank in the military determines their compensation package and privileges. Getting a demotion would entail lower pay and possibly fewer privileges. Everyone has financial responsibilities, and the reduction in pay may pose a challenge for service members struggling to make ends meet.

Even the partial forfeiture of pay can be challenging for service members because this punishment might prompt them to take out a loan. Unfortunately, some people find it difficult to pay their debts. This may cause them to fall into a cycle of debt and more financial burdens.

As in the civilian world, involvement in extramarital sexual conduct as a service member can affect one’s reputation. As people who are expected to be of good order and discipline, having adultery charges on one’s record can cause distrust.

What to Do If You Face Adultery Allegations

While the UCMJ has certain legal criteria for what constitutes extramarital sexual conduct, every case is unique. Adultery is regarded as a severe offense by military standards. That’s why you should be prepared to defend yourself if you or someone you know gets accused of committing adultery.

While the US military is mandated to provide free legal counsel, hiring your own military lawyer would be best. In particular, you should hire professionals with experience defending people against adultery charges. This is especially true in cases wherein one party is legally separated from their spouse.

The consequences of adultery charges can change a person’s life dramatically. Thus, the defendant needs a strong case to avoid charges or, at the very least, the maximum punishment for adultery charges.


judge gavel deciding on marriage divorce

If you or someone you know has been accused of engaging in extramarital sexual conduct, you should get expert help as soon as possible. Adultery is considered a severe crime in the military, and you need a solid defense to avoid the worst-case scenario. Simultaneously, it would be best to empower yourself with the knowledge to face this challenge as best as possible. Explore our website further to learn more about life in the military today.


What is UCMJ adultery?

The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) is considered the foundation of US military justice. The UCMJ formally calls adultery extramarital sexual conduct.

Is it illegal to cheat on your spouse in the military?

Yes, involvement in extramarital affairs is considered illegal by the US military. However, legal separation may be a solid defense in some instances.

What counts as adultery in the military?

According to the Military Justice Act, adultery or ‘extramarital sexual conduct’ includes oral-anal, anal-genital, oral-genital, or genital-genital between persons of the opposite or same sex. However, legal separation plays an essential role in adultery cases.

What happens if a service member engages in extramarital sexual conduct?

If proven guilty, the maximum punishment for extramarital sexual conduct may include forfeiture of all pay and allowances, confinement for up to a year, and a dishonorable discharge. Sentences are given on a case-by-case basis.

Attorney Roy Kaufmann serves as the Director of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Centralized Verification Service, located in Washington, D.C. As a recognized authority on the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, Mr. Kaufmann has published hundreds of articles and hosted many webinars. His teachings help law firms and businesses to remain compliant with the SCRA rules and regulations so as to avoid costly fines.