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The 'spouse tax' on military wives

The military is not built to suit a two-income family

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The US Army recently announced that it would pay captains up to $35,000 in retention bonuses to stem the tide of junior officers leaving the Army, in part because of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Bonuses may temporarily retain a few captains, but the problem will continue well into the future unless policymakers address a more fundamental issue: A military lifestyle makes the pursuit of a career nearly untenable for military wives.

I know the challenges that Army wives face. I've been a lawyer and an Army wife for 10 years. In that period, I've moved seven times. I've taken four different bar exams and held five different jobs. My income has been taxed in at least five states. My children have had five different nannies. I think it's safe to say that military wives like me face career obstacles that few civilian wives could appreciate.

Over half of all military wives work. Unfortunately, the military structure is not built to accommodate a two-income family. The result is what has been dubbed the "spouse tax." Little can be done to alleviate frequent relocations and long deployments. But working military wives also face a multitude of overlooked and unnecessary obstacles.

Wives attending college when their service members transfer must choose between paying exorbitant out-of-state tuition if they stay behind or losing a substantial number of credits if they move. Although many smaller and online universities admirably volunteer to accept transferred credits for military wives, not many of the country's larger public universities and almost none of the top-tier private schools do.

Working wives face long waiting lists for child care and a lack of well-paying jobs. If they find well-paying jobs, their income is taxed unfairly at the state and local level. Entrepreneurial wives must adapt to different state and local laws with each move. In some cases, they must dissolve and reincorporate their businesses (and pay the requisite fees).

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