This article discusses the basics of fraternization in the military, the likelihood of facing charges, consequences, and possible defenses.
See Find Law's Military Criminal Law section for related articles and resources. Each branch of the military used to have its own set of rules governing fraternization, but this changed in 1999 when the Department of Defense issued a issued a uniform policy for all branches to follow.
The Army has recently released an update to Army Regulation 600-20, Army Command Policy, which better defines these issues for leaders and Soldiers. 6, so commanders and Soldiers need to be aware of the new elements in the regulation to ensure compliance and to limit confusion.
AR 600-20, paragraph 4-14, defines relationships between Soldiers of different ranks and seeks to clarify proper personal and professional relationships within the Army.
The policy specified certain relationships that are always improper such as relationships between officers and enlisted service members that are personal, involve ongoing business, or involve gambling.
However, any other type of relationship can also be prohibited if it has an adverse effect on a unit or chain of command, which can include just the appearance of impropriety.
Gossip -- arguably a favorite "sport" in our society -- ranks right up there with football and basketball for things we like to talk about. One of the most common gossip topics in the Army concerns the perception of proper and improper relationships.
Commanders should provide leadership and guidance to NCOs and junior enlisted Soldiers who are in violation of this time honored but previously unwritten policy.
The key here in this example is whether you’re building a team or building a personal relationship. If an officer and enlisted service member were married before joining the service or before the policy was enacted, that relationship would not violate the fraternization policy.
Also, officers and enlisted service members in the Reserves or National Guard may have an ongoing business relationship based on their civilian jobs.
In a significant change to AR 600-20, paragraph 4-14c, now codifies the customary prohibition of personal or intimate relationships between NCOs (corporal through command sergeant major) and junior enlisted service members (private through specialist).
The prohibited relationships, which apply to both opposite-gender and same-gender relationships include: --Ongoing business relationships. 4-14c, goes on to clarify certain situations in which business relationship prohibitions would not immediately apply.