Air Force and Space Force Will Allow Couples More Time to Decide If They Want to Leave Service After Becoming Parents

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Air National Guardsman kisses his baby after returning from a deployment.
Pennsylvania Air National Guardsman, Capt. Gary Hutsler, assigned to the 171st Air Refueling Wing kisses his baby after returning to Pittsburgh, from a deployment to CENTCOM, Aug. 25, 2021. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Bryan Hoover)

A new policy released Tuesday will give active-duty dual-military couples in the Air Force and Space Force extra time to decide whether they want to separate from the service after having a child.

As of March 1, each parent now will have up to 12 months to request separation after a birth or adoption.

"This new family-friendly policy recognizes the work-life balance our Guardians seek and provides greater opportunity for choice," Patricia Mulcahy, deputy chief of space operations for human capital, said in a press release this week.

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Prior to the change, the separation option was available only to the mother in a dual-military marriage. The announcement is the latest policy update focused on providing Air Force families more flexibility with their careers and personal lives.

"As part of our ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts, this is a positive step we can take to allow new parents more time to decide how to balance their careers with a new child," Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, said in a statement.

"It's vital that we continue to find creative ways to develop and retain talented and skilled Airmen and Guardians," he added.

Under the previous policy, released in 2017, active-duty mothers had up to 12 months after having a baby to request separation; the option was not available to fathers, and not available to service members who adopted children. Before that rule was enacted, pregnant women had a window to leave the service, but only before giving birth.

Notably, under the latest policy change, only one spouse can separate using the pregnancy, childbirth or caregiver provisions. The other service member would have to apply for a hardship voluntary separation, but it might not be granted.

"The requests are evaluated based on individual merit and may be disapproved if it is determined that the separation is not in the best interest of the Department of the Air Force," the press release said.

The new policy change does not apply to reservists, Air National Guardsmen or service members who are married to civilians. It also doesn't apply to couples who are married to a spouse in the Army, Navy or Marine Corps, but can apply to couples in any combination of service in the Space Force and Air Force.

Airmen and Guardians "may apply as early as the day following childbirth or adoption" and as late as 12 months after. The requested date for separation must be a year from the date of filing the paperwork.

The Air Force and Space Force policy is more progressive than those in the other services.

The Army allows a married soldier who becomes a parent by birth, adoption or marriage to apply for separation under hardship, but they must prove to leadership that they "cannot adequately fulfill his or her military obligation without neglecting the child or children," the policy reads.

Pregnant soldiers also may apply for separation.

For sailors, Navy Personnel Command decides which member of a dual-military couple will be separated. Pregnant sailors also may apply to exit the service.

The new policy received mixed reviews when Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass posted the announcement on her official Facebook page. Some airmen criticized the rule for not accommodating civilian and reserve component couples.

But Bass hinted that there are more policies in the works.

"We're getting after it, folks … with more to come," she posted on Facebook.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

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