Family Separation Allowance (FSA) is payable when a military member is separated due to military orders from their dependents for more than 30 days. In order to be payable, the separation must be "involuntary," i.e., the dependent is not allowed to accompany the member at government expense. The rationale for FSA entitlement is that forced family separation results in added household expenses when the member is absent for a period greater than 30 days.
Types of FSA
There are three types of Family Separation Allowance:
- FSA-R - This type of family separation allowance is payable when a member is assigned to a permanent duty station (either overseas or in the states), where the member's dependents are not allowed to travel at government expense. Payment begins once the member has been separated from their dependent(s) for more than 30 days.
- FSA-S - This type of FSA is payable when a military member is stationed on a ship, and the ship is away from the homeport continuously for more than 30 days. Prior to February 9, 1996, dependents were required to live in the vicinity of the homeport in order for the member to continue to receive this type of FSA. Effective February 10, 1996, the dependents were no longer required to reside in the vicinity of the homeport.
- FSA-T - This type of FSA is payable when the member is on temporary duty (TDY) (or temporary additional duty) away from the permanent station continuously for more than 30 days, and the member’s dependents are not residing at or near the TDY station. Prior to February 9, 1996, dependents were required to live in the vicinity of the permanent duty station in order for the member to continue to receive this type of FSA. Effective February 10, 1996, the dependents were no longer required to reside in the vicinity of the permanent duty station.
A member can only be paid for one type of FSA at a time. For example, if a member is receiving FSA-R because he/she is stationed at a dependent-restricted base, and the member then performs temporary duty (TDY) away from their home station for more than 30 days (FSA-T), then the member cannot receive double payment.
FSA is payable for temporary duty/training even before proceeding to the initial duty assignment. This means that new recruits who attend basic training and/or job training when they first join the military, receive FSA, once they have been separated from their dependent(s) for more than 30 days.
FSA is payable at the amount of $250 per month. FSA is not subject to federal income tax.
FSA is not authorized unless the separation is "involuntary" due to military orders. In other words, the dependent(s) must not be entitled to travel to the new duty station at government expense. For example, if a military member receives an overseas assignment to Germany, and is given the option of serving an accompanied tour, but elects to take a shorter, unaccompanied tour instead, FSA is not payable (because the member had the option of being accompanied by dependents, but voluntarily elected to be unaccompanied).
There is one exception to this rule: Effective January 1, 2002, if transportation of dependents is authorized at government expense, but member elects an unaccompanied tour of duty because a dependent cannot accompany the member to or at that homeport/permanent station due to certified medical reasons, FSA is payable.
FSA cannot be paid when a military member is legally separated from his/her spouse (unless there are other qualifying dependents). FSA can also not be paid for separation from dependent children, if the children are in the legal custody of another. The lone exception occurs when the member has joint physical and legal custody of the child(ren) and the child(ren) otherwise would reside with the member but for the current assignment.
Family separation allowance does not accrue to a member if all of the dependents reside at or near the duty station. If some (but not all) of the dependents voluntarily reside near the duty station, FSA may accrue on behalf of those dependents who do not reside at or near the duty station. The military considers dependents as residing near a duty station if the member actually commutes daily, regardless of distance. Dependents are also considered as residing near a duty station if they live within a reasonable commuting distance of that station, whether or not the member commutes daily. A distance of 50 miles, one way, is normally considered to be within reasonable commuting distance of a station, but the 50-mile rule is not inflexible. Commanders make the decision, based on the individual circumstances.
Not many years ago, a military member who was separated from their military spouse due to military orders was not entitled to FSA, unless he/she was also separated from his/her minor dependents. This has now changed. However, not more than one monthly allowance may be paid with respect to a married military couple for any month. Each member may be entitled to FSA within the same month, but only one can receive payment. Payment is usually made to the member whose orders resulted in the separation. If both members receive orders requiring departure on the same day, then payment goes to the senior member.
Temporary Social Visits
For FSA-R, a member can continue to receive FSA if the dependents visit him/her for no longer than three months. Facts clearly must show that the dependents merely are visiting (not changing residence) and that the visit is temporary and not intended to exceed 3 months.
For FSA-S (when the ship is in a port), and FSA-T, social visits cannot exceed 30 days, or entitlement to FSA is lost.
For complete details about Family Separation Allowance entitlement, see the Department of Defense Pay Regulation, Chapter 27.