Military Law



Military Law is founded on the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ applies to all branches of the US military and governs most issues of legal concern for soldiers and others subject to the jurisdiction of US military courts. For example, the UCMJ covers the different types of court-martial, the apprehension and treatment of prisoners (both foreign and domestic), and the trial process for military tribunals. The UCMJ also covers the rules governing military jurisdiction, legal investigations, discharges from the service, the release and revision of military records, post-trial review procedures, and appellate procedures. The UCMJ applies to all active-duty, reservist, national guard, and retired military personnel.

The Laws of War (also known as “juris in bello”), on the other hand, refers to the international laws pertaining to acceptable justifications for nations to take military action against another and the limits of acceptable wartime conduct (e.g., treatment of prisoners, acceptance of surrender, use of biological/chemical weapons, and prohibitions against needlessly targeting civilians). This body of law is almost entirely comprised of treaty agreements and rules promulgated by the United Nations.

The laws of war are designed to limit war to achieving the political goals that started the war (e.g., territorial control) and should not include unnecessary destruction. They are also based on a notion that wars should be brought to an end as quickly as possible and that people and property that are not directly a part of the war effort should be protected against unnecessary destruction and hardship. To that end, the laws of war are designed to mitigate hardship by protecting both combatants and noncombatants from unnecessary harm, protecting prisoners of war who fall into enemy hands, and facilitating the restoration of peace.

Military necessity, along with distinction, and proportionality, are the three main principles of the laws of war. “Military necessity” means an attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy, it must be an attack on a military target, and the harm caused to civilians and civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. “Distinction” refers to the legal use of force in an armed conflict, where a distinction is made between targeting combatants and noncombatants. “Proportionality” relates to the efforts made by the combatants to ensure that the harm caused to civilians or civilian property is not excessive in relation to the direct, concrete military advantage anticipated by an attack on a military objective.

The resources below provide additional information on both military law and the laws of war.

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Articles on HG.org Related to Military Law

  • Split of Military Pensions in Long-Term Marriages
    After a military member reaches retirement, he or she may need to split his or her pension with a long-term spouse that is no longer in a relationship with him or her. The divorce often leads to military benefits split to up to half of what the person will receive from the military service depending on certain requirements and factors.
  • Military Members’ Duty to Provide Support
    It is often when a military member divorces his or her spouse that he or she must provide support to the other spouse and any children from the marriage that do not live with the military member. Knowing how much this is and how the rules work is important for the military spouse when facing the divorce and even retirement.
  • Survivor Benefit Plan Award and Military Divorce
    When the military member faces divorce from his or her spouse, the usual process involves survivor benefits, retirement benefits or additional monies through accounts or other programs to the nonmilitary spouse. It is important for the military member to understand these situations, so he or she is not caught unaware.
  • Acquiring Personal Jurisdiction in a Military Divorce Case
    Military divorce cases tend to be more complicated than other types of divorce cases. One of the primary areas of concern and contention is achieving jurisdiction over the service member, the military pension, child custody and child support. Federal and state laws impact these factors.
  • Military Divorce and Child Custody: Servicemembers Civil Relief Act Provisions
    Child custody can be contentious in any case. However, it can be more complicated in cases involving military personnel because of the uncertainty surrounding future deployments overseas or assignments that are stateside. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act provides protections for military personnel related to legal cases filed against them.
  • USFSPA: Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act
    The intention of Congress in 1982 in creating the USFSPA was to ensure that former spouses of military members receive financial protection after the marriage is over. This Act could protect the former spouse through divisions in military retirement pay in becoming marital property when the couple dissolve the relationship.
  • Disabled Military Retirees May Pay Less to Ex-Spouses - U.S. Supreme Court Rules
    Changes in regulations for various types of pay and compensation reduce or increase often based on the rulings that occur through district and supreme courts. In the newest ruling, the amounts that military retired service members pay to spouses that divorced prior to or during retirement may decrease to support the veteran more and the ex-spouse less.
  • Military Pension Division in New York Divorce Cases
    One of the major issues involved in a divorce case is the division of the couple’s assets and debts. For many couples, a major asset is their retirement fund or pension. In some cases, these assets are subject to division in a divorce case. While this process is complicated enough on its own, there are additional complications when the couple involves a service member.
  • Does My Civilian Spouse Automatically Get Full Custody?
    Before the divorce becomes final, it is important for a parenting plan’s creation to occur between the two parties for the time and educational purposes of any child or children affected by the separation of parents. When the military spouse faces deployment, the child may need to remain with the non-military parent even if he or she does not have custody.
  • Is My Husband’s Military Pension Considered Marital Property?
    When military personnel marry someone, these individuals may face their pension or other benefits becoming part of the marriage with transferrable action to the spouse. It is important to understand how these benefits and accounts work with a spouse, so that there are no complications when either separating or attempting to apply them for certain situations.
  • All Government Law Articles

    Articles written by attorneys and experts worldwide discussing legal aspects related to Government including: administrative law, case law, election and political law, federal law, government contracts, local, municipal and state law, military law, public law, regulatory law, US federal courts.

Military Law - US

  • Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM)

    The Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM), headed by Assistant Secretary Andrew J. Shapiro, is the Department of State's principal link to the Department of Defense. The PM Bureau provides policy direction in the areas of international security, security assistance, military operations, defense strategy and plans, and defense trade.

  • Uniform Code of Military Justice

    In its endeavor to create an extensive and readily accessible internet site dedicated to military legal resources, the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General's Legal Center & School Library in Charlottesville, VA, has focused this part of the site on a comprehensive legislative history of one of the principal documents of military law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The UCMJ is a federal law enacted by Congress; it may be cited as United States Code, Title 10, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 47.

  • United States Department of Defense

    The mission of the Department of Defense is to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country. The department's headquarters is at the Pentagon.

  • US Military

    Information and resources about the United States Military Justice System, such as the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), court martials, administrative action, service members civil relief act, military lawyers, and laws that affect military members.

Military Law - International

  • Beyond Intractability - International War Crimes Tribunals

    Efforts to limit the terrible destructiveness commonly associated with intractable conflicts ultimately depend on the ability of people in a full range of conflict roles to successfully play their part in a broad peacebuilding effort. Though each circumstance is, to some degree, unique, there is also much to be learned from others who have solved similar problems before. The goal of the Beyond Intractability (BI) system is to make such knowledge more widely and freely accessible, so people aren't forced to "reinvent the wheel." To the extent we can all contribute to a knowledge base on better ways of approaching and transforming intractable conflicts, the closer we can come to limiting the destructiveness of these situations around the world.

  • International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts

    The United Nations established special international criminal tribunals in Rwanda and Yugoslavia to prosecute those responsible for atrocities during times of war and genocide. Successful convictions of these political and military leaders are meant to bring justice to victims and to deter others from committing such crimes in the future.

  • International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)

    The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is the world’s leading authority on political-military conflict.

  • International Peace Operations Association (IPOA)

    IPOA’s mission is to: promote high operational and ethical standards of firms active in the peace and stability operations industry; to engage in a constructive dialogue and advocacy with policy-makers about the growing and positive contribution of these firms to the enhancement of international peace, development and human security; to provides unique networking and business development opportunities for its member companies; and to inform the concerned public about the activities and role of the industry.

  • NATO - Role of the International Military Staff

    The International Military Staff (IMS) is the executive agency of the Military Committee. It provides staff support to the Military Committee and is responsible for the preparation of assessments, studies and other papers on NATO military matters. The IMS also ensures that decisions and policies on military matters are implemented by the appropriate NATO military bodies. The IMS provides the essential link between the political decision-making bodies of the Alliance and the NATO Strategic Military Commanders (SACEUR and SACT) and their staffs.

  • The Geneva Conventions of 1949

    The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are at the core of international humanitarian law, the body of international law that regulates the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to limit its effects. They specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war.

Organizations Related to Military Law

  • Military Heroes

    Since September 2006, the Department of Defense has highlighted the military men and women who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in the Global War on Terror. These are our American Heroes' stories.

  • United States Air Force

    The Official Web site of the United States Air Force

  • United States Army

    This section covers the Army's leadership, warfighting capabilities and operations. Content in this section will change over time as the Army adapts to meet new threats.

  • United States Department of Veteran Affaires

    Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was established as a Cabinet-level position on March 15, 1989. President Bush hailed the creation of the new Department saying, "There is only one place for the veterans of America, in the Cabinet Room, at the table with the President of the United States of America."

  • United States Marine Corps

    Official U.S. Marine Corps Web Site

  • United States Navy

    The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.

  • US Department of Defense - Community Relations

    The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Community Relations, fosters public awareness and understanding of Department of Defense (DoD) missions, personnel, programs and requirements.

Publications Related to Military Law




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